I Survived a Life of Too Much Pain and No Sleep

After injuring her back in a car accident, Pat Skiba, 45, of Shelton, Conn., lived with the kind of pain most of us couldn't imagine. She survived on painkillers and without sleep. Finally she forced her doctor to take her pain seriously and fought a one-woman battle to find relief

When pain robbed her of sleep, Pat turned her bedroom into a "peaceful haven."
I haven't gone a day without pain—or had a good night's sleep—since September 2000. While waiting at a highway on-ramp one afternoon, my car was hit from behind and thrown into oncoming traffic.

My spine shifted to the right and my vertebrae were knocked out of alignment. A critical nerve root in my spinal cord was nearly severed, leaving me with no feeling in my right leg, foot, and toes.

For months after the accident I went through traction, steroid injections, and surgery to remove the damaged bone and restore some of the feeling in my leg. I went back and forth to my neurosurgeon for a cocktail of narcotics—but even with all the drugs, pain had taken over my life.

I wore a leg brace and could barely get out of bed. I couldn't walk, hadn't driven in months, and lived in constant fear of these terrible, electrocution-like shocks that shot through my lower back, leg, and foot nearly every 10 seconds.

One Couple's Struggle With Chronic Back Pain
Learning how to manage the pain and manage to stay connected  Read more
I was awake for entire nights, days on end. I'd doze off for half an hour, and then I'd jump out of bed when a spasm of pain hit my legs; you'd think someone was stabbing me to death the way I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Hitting rock bottom—and begging for help
No matter how many times I went back and forth to my doctors—telling them I wasn't sleeping, had lost 30 pounds, wasn't eating, and sinking into depression—not one of them ever said to me, "You should see a pain doctor." I'd been a nurse for about six years, and I know the importance of getting a second opinion.

So almost a year after my accident, I called my neurosurgeon at 4:30 in the morning. I remember thinking, I literally cannot live another day like this. My suffering had affected every single aspect of my life: relationships, spirituality, my self-identity—it had all just collapsed around me.

On the phone I told my doctor that I had to do something to make the pain manageable, just so I could sleep and walk again. And he said to me, totally exasperated, "What do you want from me, Sweetie?" Sweetie. That just blew me away.

I told him I'd written a letter that held him and my insurance company responsible, if anything happened to me, for allowing me to suffer for so long. I told him he had one hour to get me some help. He finally said, "Well, at this point, I guess you're a chronic pain patient."

I called the 24-hour emergency line at my insurance company, and they made me an appointment at 9:30 that morning with a pain physician. Finally, someone had listened to me.

12 Next
Last Updated: April 24, 2008

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from Health.com!

More Ways to Connect with Health