Fibromyalgia Sufferer Works to Keep Upper Hand on Chronic Pain

NAME: Karen Bauernschmidt

AGE: 52

HOME: Phoenix, Arizona

THE ISSUE: In the wake of a car accident in 1989, Bauernschmidt developed a chronic condition called fibromyalgia, in which pain affects every part of the body. It also can be marked by overwhelming fatigue. At the time, she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, Lorene. Over the next six years, the pain gradually went away, and Karen felt better. In 1995, she was the victim of another car accident. “That messed everything up,” she says. The pain returned “with a vengeance.”

THE MOTIVATION: In 1998, fed up with resenting her condition, she decided to change her attitude. The catalyst was an insensitive doctor who told her to stop researching the disease and to accept the fact she would be in pain all of her life. Although one doctor had diagnosed her correctly after her first accident, many told her it was “all in her head.” That was true, says Bauernschmidt, a former pediatric nurse practitioner, though not as the doctors meant it. Researchers believe that physical trauma changes the brain, causing a slowing of blood flow and amplifying sensitivity to pain.

THE CHANGE: “I changed 100 things a day,” Bauernschmidt says. All were designed to reduce her pain. She changed her clothing, wearing only soft cottons. Other fabrics were irritating. She tossed out her bras, shoes that had to be tied, stockings, purses. The slightest touch of such items could be agonizing. At one time, she says, “I could feel every follicle of hair in my body.” She began taking yoga classes to breathe more easily. She had therapeutic massages with therapists who knew her disease. She went to a physical therapist, who taught her how to enter and exit a car more comfortably. The most effective doctor she went to was a chiropractor, who relieved her knotted and tight muscles. She also consulted a psychiatrist, who prescribed antidepressants. Depression and sleeplessness often come with this disease that robs people of so much of their lives. That psychiatrist saved her life, Bauernschmidt says.

THE GAIN: Bauernschmidt still is not able to work outside her home and is looking for some kind of desktop publishing work she could do at her computer. But her pain has been reduced significantly. Getting her disease under control has enabled her to help daughter Lorene, now 15, deal with her own fibromyalgia. Several other members of their family also suffer from the condition.

BAUERNSCHMIDT’S TIPS: “Be your own boss and choose people on your health-care team who support your efforts to get well,” she says.

– Barbara Yost

Source: The Arizona Republic (online). Copyright 2005, All rights reserved.

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