I wasn’t able to watch this on Thursday night, however I heard a lot of chat about it on social media – not least because there is a reference made to cold water swimming. So I caught up with it over the weekend – and I’d advise you to do the same (catch it on iPlayer here).
The simple premise is that, as a nation, we take too many drugs and that there are many things we could do instead – for example the ‘high’ people get from cold water swimming was suggested as a treatment for depression. The three main areas of overuse of drugs that the programme highlighted were: use of antibiotics for viral infections; pain medication; depression medication.
One of the major problems that was shown within the programme was that we have been trained to believe that drugs / tablets etc will ‘cure’ us, so whenever we go to the GP we feel disappointed, let down and possibly ignored or badly treated if we don’t leave with a prescription for something – even if those drugs don’t offer the best solution, or possibly won’t help at all.
I agreed with the show and enjoyed watching it. I’m someone that doesn’t like to take tablets and for years would never, ever take anything. I’ve relented a little with things like pain killers, but I’m still hesitant. That said, I’ve recently been on some strong pain killers for my bad back, so I thought I’d share my experiences.
When I first injured my back I assumed it was muscular, so I went to physio and a couple of different osteopaths. They helped, but not enough, so I soon realised it needed something more. I have to say that the osteopath I saw was excellent, and he was suggesting I get in touch with the GP to see if I could get it addressed that way as well.
I phoned up relatively soon after I did to book an appointment with my GP, but was told the next one was about six weeks away, which just felt ridiculous. I felt like asking, “should I book this now, then just phone you up to cancel it if I’m better or dead?” However, in the end I left it and did more osteopathy.
Eventually I phoned back to book an ’emergency’ appointment so I could be seen that day. I hate doing that, as not only do I rarely have an ’emergency’, but it seems to be the only way, so that’s what I did. Of course, this means that you get pot luck in terms of which doctor you see and I saw someone I’d never seen before.
He made me feel as if I was disturbing him. Wanted to look at my back, so made me remove clothes (even though the affected area could have been seen by moving / lifting clothes) which was painful to do and painful to get dressed again. He then told me off (or that’s what it felt like) for taking Ibuprofen and prescribed stronger tablets and pain killers without me even asking. I really had to push to be referred, which was the only reason I’d gone to the GP, but finally he said I could be referred “if I really wanted to.” I did, so he did.
There was no explanation of how long I should take the tablets for, or what to expect, no suggestion of a follow up appointment to check how I was getting on – I was just given hugely strong painkillers and told to get on with it. In fact they were starting to run out before I got to see the specialist, so I was able to extend the prescription over the phone.
The first thing to note about this, is that although I had told I was being referred to a consultant I didn’t see a consultant, I saw a physio who works in the Pain Management Clinic. That said, he was good, took time to talk to me, discussed the situation with me and then suggestions two courses of action: have an MRI to rule out anything too serious; attend the pain management course that they run to help me find ways to alleviate (or cope with) the pain. I was happy with that and felt like I might be on to something.
Pain Management Course
This is split into two main elements: exercise that we should work through, then take away and do ourselves at home every day; a seminar session each week to help us cope not just with the pain, but all the surrounding issues as well (lack of sleep etc).
The idea of it is great, but in practice it has so far been a huge waste of my time every Monday morning. The physio running it has never asked me about my specific symptoms, where my pain is, what aggravates it, or how it may change and fluctuate – but she did manage to give me a ‘personal’ exercise programme by giving me a selection of the generic exercises on the sheet. Not once has she then further checked to see if I’m doing them right, or how I’m getting on with them and whether I should increase or decrease the intensity.
While the seminars are an incredibly annoying mix of powerpoint slides with crazy fonts, clip art imagery and spelling mistakes and personal anecdotes. There are some interesting nuggets in there, but they are hard to pick out.
Today I went back to the consultant to discuss the results of the MRI. I was waiting over 40 minutes for an 11;30am appointment which meant things didn’t start well. They got worse when he started to read from someone else’s notes and had to disappear to find mine (leaving other people’s on full display for me). When he finally came back he was far less willing to listen to me compared to last time. Told me the MRI showed a bulging disk, that it would correct itself, that I should continue to exercise, that I can increase my swimming if I’m careful, that I should see him again in about six weeks. That was it.
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My point in detailing out all of this is that I actively want to not take drugs, but the biggest issue with all of this is being given some personal care to let me know, from an expert opinion, what and how I should manage this process. At no stage during this process have I felt like the care is personal to me, is based on my body, on my pain / injury, or on my vision of what success may look like. I have been given a cookie cutter answer, which has included some strong drugs.
I don’t blame the individuals, although the three main people I’ve dealt with haven’t been great, I blame the processes they have to work within, for example the poor GP had to get me out the door as quickly as possible as he only had ten minutes with me. However, if we are going to get the public to request fewer drugs, then the medical professionals need to look them in the eye, give them time and give them an alternative plan that is bespoke to them. Unfortunately that seems unlikely in the current NHS and therefore we’re going to keep taking more drugs as they offer a placebo to real care.