Thirteen steps. That’s all it took to make Jewel “a captive of pain,” in her words. Thirteen is how many stairs she fell down in her home before landing on a concrete floor.
“It was a nightmare physically and emotionally,” said Jewel. “It put a stop on everything.”
Jewel, 57, is a professional singer-songwriter who used to sing jingles for commercials and radio spots. She is also a mixed-media artist and instrumentalist who plays the harmonica, guitar and piano.
The fall set off a cascade of painful issues: fibromyalgia, severe arthritis and pinched nerves in her lower back, sharp prickling in her right foot, grinding pain and stiffness in her neck, spinal issues, knotted muscles tender to the touch, nerve damage, the list went on. Even after Jewel was able to walk again, she needed a cane and could only stand for 30 minutes at a time. She was not able to play her instruments and singing hurt too much.
“I was so close to giving up on music,” Jewel said.
The pain dictated her life in other ways, too. She got used to planning her errands around the small windows of time where she felt well enough to go.
“I can’t tell you what it felt like, going to the grocery store, limping like I was 100 years old and people watching me, wondering what’s wrong with me. It did a number on my confidence. It did a number on my womanhood. It really… did a number on me.”
Jewel struggled to describe her pain to friends, family, her primary care doctor and the specialists she went to see about it. But the pain seemed to resist everything she tried, and Jewel became depressed and cynical. She almost didn’t take her primary doctor’s referral to see a pain medicine specialist, Mona Patel, MD, at Ascension Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove Village, IL.
Has your pain lasted longer than three months? Talk to your primary care doctor and find out if an Ascension Illinois pain management specialist is right for you.
Find a doctor who listens
Dr. Patel, an experienced pain management specialist, has kept up with the latest research on how psychosocial factors can affect physical recovery.
This background has informed her approach to patients. By the time many of her patients come to her, they have seen multiple doctors and have lost hope. “I put myself in their shoes and am mindful of the words I use when talking about their pain and how it makes them feel,” said Dr. Patel.
It took a couple visits, but Jewel found herself warming up to her new doctor. Dr. Patel seemed to understand her pain in a way other specialists had not. When Jewel mentioned she didn’t want to take a lot of new medications or disrupt the ones she was already on, Dr. Patel respected her wishes.
“She made me feel like a person, not another number,” said Jewel.
Dr. Patel also helped Jewel find the words for her pain.
“Describing pain and its severity is difficult,” said Dr. Patel. “So when encouraging patients to describe their pain, I try to give them adjectives like burning, stinging, cold water, ants crawling under your skin or somebody pinching you. This can help us investigate further to find a diagnosis.”
To give Jewel plenty of time to adjust, Dr. Patel started off slowly with a single oral medication for fibromyalgia. This made Jewel more open to trying other treatment options after the medicine started to relieve symptoms. Jewel then agreed to try trigger point injections.
Similar in some ways to acupuncture, trigger point injection uses small needles to inject anesthetic and steroids into muscles. As Dr. Patel put it, “It is kind of like hitting the reset button so that all your muscles can finally relax.” The treatment takes five minutes, with pain relief lasting up to two months.
Dr. Patel focused that first treatment on the area of Jewel’s body that was causing her the most pain. Within a couple of days, Jewel’s inflammation decreased and her pain eased. Pleased with the results, she agreed to more sessions and Dr. Patel moved on to her mid-back and neck.
“Dr. Patel went beyond my expectations,” said Jewel. “I’ve never had a specialist like her. I wish I could have met her earlier.”
As treatment progressed, Dr. Patel noticed the change in Jewel’s mood and outlook: “She went from being a little like Eeyore to bright sunshine.”
Through it all, Dr. Patel encouraged Jewel to ask questions and to tell her if any treatment wasn’t working. This helped them uncover new ways to relieve Jewel’s pain. When Jewel reported being unable to sleep because of painful leg cramps and twitching in her toes, Dr. Patel recommended a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. This helped her identify a displaced disc in Jewel’s spine, which Dr. Patel helped heal with two epidural injections.
Jewel currently receives trigger point injections every two months. If she ever needs more help controlling her pain, she and Dr. Patel can consider more advanced options such as a spinal cord stimulator. This tiny battery-powered device, similar to a pacemaker, is implanted under the skin near the spine and blocks pain signals from reaching the brain.
Get back to doing what you love
Ascension Illinois provided Jewel with the support she needed to get back to doing what she loves. With her pain largely gone, Jewel flew to California last year to complete a 13-song album with her mentor and colleagues that had been three years in the making.
Jewel’s personal goal for 2023 is to build her strength and stamina so that she can sing and perform at local open mics.
“I never thought that at almost 60 years old, I’d be able to get my life back,” she said. “I’ve come a long way.”