Jeanne Bashore used to spend most of her day in bed. Now she’s not only up but out of the house, walking her dog.
The crutch sitting by the front door hasn’t been used since Jeanne Bashore completed a unique pain program some five months ago. “I keep envisioning it feeling so lonely, wondering why I never take it with me anymore,” she says.
Bashore, a Woburn, Massachusetts, resident who has had fibromyalgia since she graduated high school in 1980, had spent most of her recent years in bed. When she did go out of the house, the crutch was a steady companion.
Ditching the crutch is just one of the many ways Bashore’s life has been transformed by the functional restoration program for pain management at Spaulding Outpatient Center in Medford, Massachusetts. The program, one of a small number of comprehensive, interdisciplinary pain programs around the country, employs a wide range of professionals and techniques to help people with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes take back their lives.
She Thought She Had Tried Everything
Over the years that Bashore has suffered from severe fibromyalgia, she had to go on disability from her graphic artist career and was hospitalized for severe depression due to pain. In that time, she tried many therapies.
“I had taken pain medicines, including opioids, and had done nerve blocks, physical therapy, radiofrequency ablation, trigger point injections, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, reiki, you name it. Everything offered just a temporary fix,” she says.
Defeated by the pain, she retreated to a sedentary life, passing entire days in bed except to make dinner for herself and her daughter, now 27. The pain and exhaustion from making that meal always sent her back to her room right after.
Skeptical She Could Handle a Twice-a-Week Program
Last fall, Bashore’s primary care doctor recommended that she attend a twice-a-week, eight-week outpatient program.
At first, she thought she couldn’t do it. “How could I get there twice a week when I couldn’t even get out of bed?” she thought. Plus, the pain in her arm from the fibromyalgia, arthritis, and a torn rotator cuff was so intense at the time that she couldn’t lift it.
Still, when she went for an interview (the program has to accept patients; currently there’s a waiting list of several months), she decided maybe it could help. The practitioners she met seemed both competent and understanding, and they reassured her that she would be easing into the physical exercises that form the heart of the program. She was pleased when she got the nod.
Fear of Exertion Diminishes With Expert Guidance
Her first days were both challenging and confusing. One exercise they gave her was to lie on her side and rotate her weak arm upward. “I was afraid that they were injuring me and that a few days after the exercise the pain would be so much worse, which is what had always happened,” she says.
But the physical therapist reassured her that by strengthening the muscle behind the injury, she would be able to use her arm again. The postworkout pain (beyond the regular soreness that everyone experiences) never materialized.
Doing aerobic exercise was also tough at first. Even the 10 minutes they asked her to start with was exhausting. But the fact that the therapists took her pulse and blood pressure immediately before and after the workout, and that they were right there should she need them, made Bashore more comfortable. “That helped me to push myself to see what I could accomplish,” she says.
Occupational therapists imparted life skills, everything from reaching for objects without causing pain to shopping effectively and how to position her body to stand in line.
Bashore learned how to stand by her sink to wash the dishes, by squatting a bit so her 5’8” frame is in line with the sink and tilting her pelvis to engage her core and take stress off her lower back. She also realized that there is nothing embarrassing in taking time to ice achy parts of her body — or to walk into a coffee shop to ask for a cup of ice.
To prepare her to be able to lift her beloved 17-pound rescue dog, Luna, a backpack was filled with small amounts of weights; more were added over time.
Group and Individual Sessions Fill the Day
The program schedule, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., reminded Bashore of going to school. “You’d have 45 minutes of physical therapy in the gym, then move on to a lecture by a social worker, then a session with an occupational therapist, and on and on,” she says.
Some days included group discussions about how pain impacts the family or even about having sex, as well as nutrition lectures on anti-inflammatory foods and supplements. There were also private sessions for biofeedback, guided imagery, and other techniques. Each day ended with a yoga or tai chi class, to both relax the body and impart mindfulness and meditation skills.
The program professionals say that all of these techniques are needed.
“An interdisciplinary approach is critical for fibromyalgia because the disease affects all aspects of people’s lives: emotional, physical, and lifestyle,” says Eve Kennedy-Spaien, an occupational therapist at the Spaulding Outpatient Center.
Her Pain Medicine Use Is Way Down
By the time the program ended, Bashore’s initial skepticism that she couldn’t be helped was replaced by seeing the way the program has changed her life.
Her amount of “up time” (the program’s terminology for being out of bed) went from virtually nothing to all day, from 10 a.m. until after dinner.
Bashore not only goes places now, she is able to take a daily walk with Luna around a football field near her home. And if Luna needs to be lifted and moved from one place to another, Bashore can do it.
An Invaluable, Lifelong Tool Chest
Perhaps the most important benefit Bashore got from the program is recognizing that there are tools she can use to take action or to shift her thinking when she is preparing for an activity, heading off a flare, or dealing with unyielding pain.
“Overall, the program has made my life a lot easier. It’s made it less painful. It’s given me direction. Before, fibro was a pretty crappy sentence I had to live with the rest of my life, but now I know there are things that can help. They’re not going to take the pain completely away, but they can certainly make it better,” she says.
Or, as Bashore wrote in a required letter to herself at the completion of the program, “There are ways to ease your pain. It isn’t going to kill you. There is a future.”