Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fox Bones Episode an Insult to People with Fibromyalgia



I was disappointed, last night, as I watched one of my favorite TV shows, Bones.  

 Episode 18, Predator in the Pool,  was very interesting. Booth and Brennan (Bones) caught the killer, a fourth-grade teacher, who had enacted revenge on a shady self-help guru, Jazz Gunn. Through his seminars, Gunn had promised a cure for pain and fibromyalgia. After taking his seminar nine times, the teacher did not feel any better and felt betrayed by Jazz Gunn and his false promises. An opportunity arose and she killed him. As she was confessing to FBI agent Booth, she stated that after killing him, she has since felt no pain. The clear implication being that her fibromyalgia was now cured.

This conclusion has some humor, but it is at the expense of millions of people who live every day in the pain caused by fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia, their families, doctors and scientists around the world have worked hard over the past 30+ years to document the legitimacy of this medical illness.  In 1987, the American Medical Association recognized fibromyalgia as a true illness and a major cause of disability. Despite this recognition, and years of scientific research, many in our society still think of fibromyalgia as a psychological problem. 

This episode of Bones helped to perpetuate this harmful myth. It is not a stretch to believe that the teacher with fibromyalgia would feel desperate and betrayed by the false promises of Jazz Gunn. People often do feel desperate for some type of relief for their never-ending pain. Unfortunately, there is no known cure at this time. Even revenge and murder cannot cure fibromyalgia. 

A Simple Solution to this problem, for the show's writer's, would have been for the highly intelligent Dr. Brennan to add that, "I guess she didn't have fibromyalgia after all".  This would have been consistent with the character's knowledge and avoided the implication that psychological factors, such as needing revenge, could cause fibromyalgia.

A Responsible Solution would be for the producers of Bones to apologize to the millions of people and their families that are  affected by fibromyalgia. This apology could help clarify that fibromyalgia is a true medical illness, not caused or cured by psychological factors.

Bones is still one of my favorites. I hope the writers and researchers can avoid such costly mistakes in the future. A little bit of extra background research can help all of us.

Yours with Care
Michael MacDonald, Ph.D.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Even Sports Heroes Can Suffer From Chronic Pain


Thank you to Nick Canepa from the San Diego Union Tribune. Your recent article, Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all, will help more than 50 million North Americans who live every day in pain.


Your inspiring article helps in two ways.


First, you explain that even a famous sports hero can suffer from chronic pain. Bill Walton, an all-time basketball great was living in unbearable pain after more than 36 surgeries. His was a clear example of physical injuries causing his long-term pain. No psychological causes here.


Secondly, you point out that even Bill Walton's enthusiastic personality was no match for his relentless back pain. At one point, his chronic back pain became so unbearable that he was ready to jump off a bridge, taking his own life. This tells us a little about how difficult it is for anyone to live in constant pain. All the more power to Bill Walton, for having the courage to admit this.


Depression is a common side effect of living every day in pain. It is hard for anyone to admit this. With depression, thoughts of ending one’s life come to mind. They are unavoidable. This is another reason why people in pain need all the love and support we can muster. Understanding and validation are important too. Thank you Nick Capepa.


Yours with Care

Michael R. MacDonald, Ph.D.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Better sleep, less pain, easier life



Sleep can be a big problem, sometimes, even when you are healthy.


Imagine trying to sleep when your back is aching, or when sharp pains are shooting down your arm. Imagine trying to sleep when your head and neck hurt even to touch the pillow.


Trying to find a comfortable position in bed. Trying to return to sleep each time your pain and injuries wake you up during the night. Trying to calm down after each disruption. Trying not to think about how long this has been going on – even though it may have been months or even years.


This is a small sample of life with chronic pain - at least the tip of the iceberg.


Fortunately, professionals who work in this field know the importance of sleep. For example, Professor Charles Morin, from the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, has written an excellent review of insomnia research, Chronic Insomnia: Recent Advances and Innovation in Treatment Developments and Dissemination. He discusses how scientists have made great strides in understanding insomnia and in developing new methods of helping people.


Here are some simple suggestions to help your sleep and, hopefully, to help lessen your pain a little.


  1. Don’t try to skip your pain medication at night. Your sleep medication can help your sleep, help lessen your fatigue the next day, help reduce insomnia related flare-ups of pain and help you cope better.

  1. Plan and prepare for sleeping. Set a regular time for sleep. In the hours leading up to bedtime, avoid activities that cause you extra pain or extra stress. Avoid activities that are too interesting or too stimulating. Your goal is to wind down and relax.

  1. Learning how to relax is important, but not always so easy when you live in pain. One of my patients found her own way to help settle into sleep. She goes to her husband and each of her children, smiles, hugs them and tells them she loves them. She doesn’t rush this. She wants the warm feelings to sink in. This is a nightly ritual they all enjoy.

  1. Many people who live in pain are helped by anti-depressant medication. This makes sense, of course. If long-term pain doesn’t make you feel burned out, nothing will. This medication has a triple benefit and is not addictive. It can help with sleep (especially staying asleep). It can help you feel more in control of your irritability and moods. And, it can help you cope with and tolerate your pain better. This medication can also make life a little easier on your family (which helps you as well).

More help is available from the Canadian Sleep Society.


Stay tuned to this site and please sign up. I will be following up with more on this vitally important topic. More understanding and more suggestions are soon to come.


Yours with care,

Michael MacDonald, Ph.D.,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chronic pain - A Verdict is No Cure

Some doctors, lawyers, insurance adjusters and everyday citizens still believe, that once your lawsuit, or your case with Workers Compensation is finished, you will be all better. Your pains will magically disappear and you can return to work and a normal life. Wouldn’t this be nice?

This scenario is depicted in the movies and television, sometimes. The case is won by a smart attorney. The accident victim is now rich. He walks out of the court room, throws his crutches away, and lives happily ever after. This is the American way, isn't it?

Life doesn’t work out this way though and never has. Scientists have studied this issue in numerous research projects over the years. The findings have been quite clear. Chronic pain does not end when your case is settled. This is true for individuals that suffer from chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, or any type of injury that leads to long-term pain.

Your life may be less stressful because the insurance companies and lawyers are out of your life. With less stress, your pain and injuries may be less aggravated. You may be able to sleep at little better. Your mind won't be plagued by endless intrusions, threats, and accusations. For this reason, it is very helpful to have your dealings with insurance companies end as soon as possible. But settlements and court victories, however useful in paying your debts, cannot cure chronic pain. A verdict is no cure.

Even if others stubbornly cling to their prejudices, it is important for you to be clear about this essential fact.

Please post your thoughts and ideas on this matter. It is very important. Your comments can help a lot of people.