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Dog guardianship amidst chronic pain - How chronic pain can affect how we care for our dogs

This is a dog page. Where I talk about dog things. However, I want to talk a bit about specific human feelings that can sometimes prevent us from getting care for our dogs (and ourselves!) 

To better understand the story I am about to tell, I want to share a little bit about my history with chronic pain, and the years that I have spent in the human medical world. 

Disclaimer - this is my personal experience. I am not saying all doctors or vets are bad. I think there is a much larger problem within the systems. For both veterinary and human medicine. I have had some amazing and wonderful doctors and nurses! I also currently have a wonderful veterinary team that we work closely with and adore. But I have also experienced my share of horrific things in the past 15 years, and I think it’s important to recognize that it is no “one person” who is at fault, but also really important to openly discuss that these things ARE very real, prevalent, and happening to people and animals every day.

I was in a pretty major car accident when I was 18 years old. 

What came with that? Over 15 years of chronic pain, and significant time spent in the medical world. Anyone who has spent large chunks of their life in doctors offices, hospitals, and with doctors, nurses, and surgeons knows that it can be a pretty unpleasant place for chronic pain patients. 

I cannot count the amount of times I have been made to feel guilty by medical professionals for my pain…How many times I have been told what I am feeling by medical professionals who are not inside my body… How many times I have been left in a waiting room for hours on end while in excruciating pain, only to be treated poorly and made to feel like a burden. 

It is far too often that we are told by doctors what we feel within our own bodies.

Which is ironic, considering pain is not only very complex, but incredibly subjective, and it is impossible for any of us to know what another person (or animal) is feeling. I learned very early on about the isolation, stigmatization, misunderstanding, and rejection that accompanies chronic pain. 

So, this has been a long process for me, and medical settings of any kind are not ones I feel very safe or comfortable in. 

Now, I want to share a little story, and then I’ll get to the point, I promise! 

I had some dental work done. I had cracked a tooth. The pain was not horrendous, but I was worried about it, and managed to force myself to the dentist because I do have a positive history with them, and they have been amazing about my anxiety.

I ended up needing a crown to protect the tooth. They did the prep, and placed the temporary crown. As I was on my way out, the dentist told me to look out for any significant pain. Pain that was keeping me up at night, preventing me from eating, or pain that over the counter meds didn’t help. 

Guess what happened? Immediately once the freezing wore off, my pain was a 10/10. I figured it was just sore from being worked on, as he mentioned that can happen. Okay. I told myself, “I’ll give it a couple of days, and see if it settles down.” 

Did it? 

Absolutely not. It was intensely painful, and I started maxing out the doses of Ibuprofen and acetaminophen I could take. It helped, but didn’t last me anywhere near the 4-6 hours I needed until I could take more. 

I waited until the day before my follow up appointment, when I hadn’t slept properly for 3 nights, was barely able to eat, and was on the verge of tears pretty much constantly before I called the dentist to let them know about this. AND I had to have a friend chat with me, help me soothe the big feelings I was having, and help me to make the phone call. 

They were wonderful, and very concerned about my pain levels. 

So what happened during that week? Why didn’t I just call the dentist?

By my own admission, they’re wonderful! This office, its people, the whole practice has shown me that they are a safe place. That they will listen. That they will not write me off, and that they will take any concerns that I have seriously. 

This was still not enough for my brain. These thoughts and feelings are so ingrained in me, and I still have a lot of work to do. So I could not just pick up that phone. It wasn’t a simple task to make the call. I was fighting with my own mind. My brain told me that two things were happening:

1) I can’t trust what is happening in my body. Because I have been TOLD this for 15+ years by people who are supposed to help, and
2) even if I WAS struggling with this amount of pain, the dentist wouldn’t listen. They would be irritated with me, and treat me like I was being silly. 

What I heard in my head, was every single medical professional that has made me feel terrible about myself, and my pain - “It’s just in your head”, “It can’t be THAT bad”, “You shouldn’t be feeling this way after - insert whatever medication or treatment - was happening at that time”...and so, so much more. 

So what did I do instead of calling the dentist? I suffered through the week, not only physically and in excruciating pain, but mentally and emotionally as well.

Because sometimes it is really hard for me to

A) listen to my own body, and believe it. And
B) trust the medical system. 

How does this apply to dogs? 

Well, sometimes, when our head is filled with thoughts like these, it can be really tough to pull apart what is happening for us, and what is our stuff, and what is going on with our dogs. 

Our own stuff runs so deep within us, and it can make so much of our time as dog guardians really tricky, and emotional! 

We can start to question ourselves, and what we see in our dogs. We can have distrust for the veterinary industry. We can fear we won’t be heard. We can fear we are being “annoying”, or “burdens”, we can feel like we are “overreacting” about “nothing”.

We can hear our vets tell us our dog is okay, even though we are sure we see our dog struggling, and it can be really frightening to speak up and advocate for them, and we may even have an amazing vet who will listen! But all of our stuff can come rushing to the surface for us and make it feel impossible. 

It can be scary to have everything from your past come up and pile on when you are already in a heightened emotional state when something worrisome is happening with your dog. All of these things can make it really scary to pick up the phone. All of these things can make it really  scary to make that call. Especially when that call brings you back to a place where there is uncertainty around the way not only you will be treated, but the way your dog will be treated as well. A place where you are not only stressed and worried, but more than that, a place where you are reliving every horrible moment you have ever endured in your chronic pain journey.

The point? Our own stuff affects everything we do with our dogs! Sometimes in small ways, that don’t even seem noticeable. But other times, in ways that can have a profound impact on our mental health, and in turn, have a profound effect on our capacity to care for them.  

And when chronic pain is involved, it can open up a whole can of worms for us when we start beginning to look into the same for our dogs.

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