Dear Authorities of the Alberta Health Services

I just sent this letter to the Authorities of the Alberta Health Services. I believe it speaks for all of us in some way or another.

Dear Authorities of the Alberta Health Services,

Thank you so much for your prompt response on my referral to the Calgary Pain Clinic. I was so pleased to be referred back in October of 2009 to your stunning facility. In January of 2010 I received your gargantuan questionnaire requiring me to tell you not only about my pain but also any suspicious activities I believe my neighbours have been up to recently. Thank god you did because I'm fairly certain the family next door might be passing secrets to Nazi Germany. I don't have the heart to tell them that the war has been over for several years, after all, elderly people need something to occupy their time, and I can't quite understand what 2/3 of your lovely survey actually have to do with my patient care. Fortunately all the back surgeries and chronic pain have given me a lovely sense of humor and I filled it out with glee.

I do feel I am a patient person, but by March of 2010 I was beginning to get a little concerned that perhaps I had fallen through the cracks. It is my understanding that this only happens once in a blue moon, after all, we're Canada, not America. If I wanted a speedy response I would go to the States and pay someone to look at me as soon as possible. Thank god I didn't do that to begin with, or else I never would have had the chance to experience the ways of your lovely system. Nevertheless I soldiered on and made an inquiry to your lovely establishment at the Holy Cross Center. Props to your secretary who took my call, she was very efficient. Not even bothering with taking my name, she used her psychic powers to learn who I was and how long I had been waiting. Using this information she directed me to call back in a month. I did so willingly, knowing that all good things come to those who wait and heck! I'm in constant pain day in and day out. I take a multitude of drugs to stop myself from playing in open traffic. When I see your specialist for the few short minutes I'm sure he'll spend with me, I'm sure he will magically dissipate my pain and then it will all be worth it.

Fast forward to today, which for the record is May 7th, 2010. I have just gotten off the phone with another lovely receptionist who, although lacked the psychic abilities of the first, was kind enough to acknowledge her own abilities and actually ask me my name and used something she referred to as a com-PU-ter to look me up.

Imagine my shock when I was told that the triage nurse was on her well-deserved two week vacation, and when she returned next week would determine if I was to be pushed to the regular list or bumped to the very important "Dear-Christ-I-Can't-Take-It-Anymore-List". If I was to be placed on the DCICTIAL I would have an average waiting time of 8 months. 8, I thought to myself, seemed like a reasonable amount of time to wait for something, anything in fact. I was pleased with that as I felt I had adequately displayed in your lengthy questionnaire just how excruciating it is to live with such unbelievable pain. However, she added, if I was added to the regular list I would have to wait 18 month. 18 months, from the time of referral (let's be fair to you hardworking folks now!) that would bring me to the start of 2011.

Okay, I think I've been pretty polite up to this point. I mean, it's a big province, lots of people with chronic pain I guess, and I'm sure certainly people in more pain than myself. HOWEVER, I would like to stress to you, just for a moment, what it is like to be in constant pain. What it feels like to wake up every morning paralyzed because the five back surgeries you've had have actually not done a whole lot for the state of your spine. Have you ever seen a 73 degree scoliosis curve before? I personally give you permission to go to the Alberta Children's Hospital and look at my first pre-surgical x-rays. Keep in mind those are from before the first surgery when I was only thirteen. I am now 20, although I'll be well into 21 by the time I am seen by one of your specialists. Granted, the pain started soon after I was diagnosed, which was ten years ago. Ten, sir, madam, whoever is reading this, I don't care if your an intern (although I would recommend you abandon ship now) What I would like is for you to tell me what it is like living a day in the body of anyone who suffers chronic pain. In the knees, in the back, in the shoulders, in the head, the neck, there's quite a few parts to ones body I have learned, and all of them are capable of holding pain. Currently I'm experiencing a blinding pain in my brain, although that may just been the part of me that wants to drive to the nearest Alberta Health Services office and scream at the first person I see. I will avoid that simply because I can't guarantee that said first person isn't actually another chronic pain sufferer also there to complain. It wouldn't surprise me.

So, the gist of my letter, as I'm sure you're wondering, is who the hell do you think you people are? I'm aware that you're professionals and you've gone to school and you own degrees but for some reason you seem to be lacking in a large amount of what we 'normies' generally refer to as 'common sense'. Sense being the realization that individuals who suffer chronic pain do not have 18 months to wait. They do not have that time because every hour they are alive is spent creating dozens of creative ways to end said suffering while making the smallest mess possible for their loved ones to clean up. Sense being that you understand individuals who suffer chronic pain are downing handfuls of medication by the hour, all in various forms and combinations, in hopes that they will be able to make it through the next hour without bursting into tears. I'm not sure if you, reading this right now, have ever suffered chronic pain before, but in case you have I'd love to know what miracle combination of medication prevented you from finding the nearest cliff and hurling yourself over it in hopes that you'll black out before you hit the jagged rocks below, although it wouldn't really matter because at least the sensation of your body being punctured by dozens of sharp implements would allow you to forget that your back hurts.

Do you know how often I have wanted to go play in traffic? Sometimes when I'm standing at a cross walk and I see a semi coming I like to calculate my chances of survival (if I'm wearing a hat usually I assume said hat will prevent my immediate departure from this miserable plane of existence, so I avoid the whole 'jumping in front of said truck' idea.) I also like the idea of taking all the medication I have right now (which is a lot, just so you know). The most brilliant part about that is not only will I not have to put up with pain anymore, but I'll actually die not in pain! Really, over dosing is a fantastic option for chronic pain sufferers. Maybe you should add it to your list of options when calling the Center. You know, press '6' to be walked through a proper over-dosing suicide. If you did that maybe the rest of us wouldn't have to wait 18 months.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that you're busy and it's a job and whatever. What I would like, very much, is to hear from someone way up in your administration who is paid great stinkin' wads of cash, just how they plan on improving this minor blip in the system. Or, if said administrator is not available, I would also accept some of their cash in exchange for an answer. That way I wouldn't have to put half of one of my pay checks towards buying two weeks worth of medication just so I don't decide to kill myself. The best part is I can't work full time, even if I wanted to. Because I'm in pain. Isn't the irony great? Your administrators are paid dollar on top of dollar for sitting around in a desk all day while I can't even spend five hours on my feet doing menial work without taking morphine. Hey, here's a plan, I'll trade you, okay? You come do my job, and I'll do yours. Of course to make it fair you're going to have to have five back surgeries and be in constant pain, but I'm sure you can handle it, can't you? After all, plenty of us live with it every day, and for some reason we don't complain about it nearly the way we should.

Sincerely, Kathleen Sawisky

PS: Seriously, 18 months. Wrap your head around it. I know I can't.

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