The Art of Pain Management

When she was 27, Patty Kruger’s orthopedic surgeon told her she would be in a wheelchair by the age of 35. When she was in junior high, her art teacher told her she would do better to focus on her studies and that she just wasn’t an artist. Today, Kruger is an award-winning artist and a walking optimist. No matter her pain, her attitude is not one of a quitter, and she urges other pain patients to adopt the same attitude.

“I really think it’s important for chronic pain patients not to give up, no matter how bad it gets,” she advises. “There is help out there.” Kruger suffers from fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and arachnoiditis. Most specifically, it was the severe neck pain from her degenerative disc disease that led her to Arizona Pain Specialists.

On her first visit, radiofrequency ablation was recommended for the neck pain, and upon further discussing her pain conditions, the medical team recommended a spinal cord stimulator (SCS). But she was a bit wary of the procedure.

“I had an SCS in the early 90s that was unsuccessful and had to be removed,” she explains of her apprehension. “The medical team explained that technology on the SCS had come a long way and how the new technology may be able to help me. My husband and I were really impressed with Arizona Pain Specialists.”

Kruger let the medical team know that she would think about SCS, but before she had even left the practice, she knew that she wanted to try it. The radiofrequency ablation went well for her neck pain, and she had the trial stimulator placed.

“The relief from the trial was so good that when it was over I didn’t want to have it removed! I knew then I wanted to have the permanent device placed. The first time I felt the stimulation, I burst into tears, because the stimulation was in the right place. That’s what is key – having a physician who is educated enough to place the stimulator leads in the correct place,” Kruger says of the pain relief provided by the SCS. “And everyone at Arizona Pain Specialists has been wonderful to me. It makes a difference when you know someone cares and respects your individual pain problem.”

The SCS has helped Kruger develop her art in a tremendous way. She explains that the right side of the brain is the side that is the most creative, and that she can actually feel a “shift” to the right side of her brain when she really gets into her art.

“The pain, before the SCS, would often keep me from getting to the right side of my brain,” she said. “I just wasn’t able to focus enough and get the pain under control enough to do my artwork. I’ve found with the SCS as the months go by that I’m definitely being more creative.”

Recently, Kruger heard of an art teacher who is internationally renowned and would be teaching a week-long workshop in Sedona, Arizona. When she told her husband she badly wanted to attend, he was doubtful. “He said, ‘Do you really think you could handle taking a painting workshop like that?’ I told him I really think I could, and that I really, really wanted to.” Kruger was not only able to successfully make the trip in the car from New Mexico, something she hadn’t been able to do before, but she was also able to attend the workshop and gain valuable experience from it.

Kruger credits her compassionate attitude to her lifelong battle with chronic pain.

“I’ve been able to relate to other people because I feel I know what they are experiencing. Thirty years ago, I decided I wanted to become a hospice volunteer. I thought maybe I could help someone else. When you can turn things around and help someone else, you are able to take the focus off yourself and off your pain.”

Kruger encourages other pain patients to try to keep their relationships strong.

“I think most people with chronic pain would acknowledge the fact that they have a very difficult time with relationships – and I’ve found it to be true. People get tired of hearing about your problem. But I have been blessed with family and friends who truly support me, and it’s their love and support that gets me through the difficult times. I could have given up a long time ago. I could have been in a wheelchair at 35. My pain has been a lifetime experience, and I’d encourage other people to know that they can handle it and that they should never give up. If you quit, you’re done – and I’m not quitting.”