Easing Chronic Pain Helps Two Seniors Give Back

     

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Friends Jacqueline Murdock, left, and Rosemary Gallagher, right, have found relief from chronic pain at BMC.

It was a lucky twist of fate when the MBTA’s RIDE pulled up in front of Rosemary Gallagher’s house five years ago. It was in the back of that minibus that she met Jacqueline Murdock. Both women were headed to Dorchester House Multi-Service Center in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. During the short drive, Rosemary, 80, convinced Jacqueline to join the center’s weekly meeting of its seniors’ club.

“I’ve been a member ever since,” smiled Jacqueline, 71. “I love getting out and meeting new people.”

These two friends share much more than weekly activities at the seniors’ club. Both women are passionate about community service and volunteer regularly. Rosemary works three days a week at the Dorchester House Food Pantry, and Jacqueline helps prepare preschoolers for kindergarten through the not-for-profit organization, Jumpstart. It’s hard to believe that these two energetic women once confronted back pain so severe and crippling that it threatened to put an end to their activities.

Jacqueline suffered from chronic lower back and hip pain for years. She sought out Boston Medical Center’s multidisciplinary Pain Management Group hoping to finally find a solution. After a thorough assessment of Jacqueline’s pain symptoms, neurologist Michael Perloff, MD, PhD, confirmed that degenerative spine joint arthritis was the leading cause of her pain. Dr. Perloff felt that blocking the pain nerves that supply these joints might help, even if it required briefly taking her off blood thinners for atrial fibrillation to do so.

“I was so amazed at the outcome of that first injection,” said Jacqueline. “My back pain essentially disappeared.”

For nearly 10 years, BMC’s multidisciplinary Pain Management Group has been at the forefront of identifying and addressing chronic pain. Comprised of specialists in neurology, anesthesiology, physiology and psychiatry, the group provides an integrative approach to address the many physical and psychological factors that contribute to the pain experience. As one of the few multidisciplinary pain management centers housed in a neurology department, patients benefit from unparalleled medical expertise and research.

“Chronic pain is complicated, especially in the elderly where there are many different contributing factors at play,” explained Dr. Perloff. “Multiple pain generators, age-related physiological changes and psychological factors, like coping skills and depression, all need to be addressed to provide relief.”

Rosemary immediately sought a consult with Dr. Perloff after she heard about Jacqueline’s successful treatment. Her back and leg pain had been worsening over the years to the point where she could barely walk 20 feet without resting. She was struggling to meet her volunteer responsibilities at the Food Pantry, which required her to lift and organize boxes and cans.

Her case proved difficult. Rosemary suffered from osteoporosis and spinal stenosis. The conditions were further complicated by previous lumbar spine surgery 30 years earlier. Because of her unusual anatomy, other physicians had been hesitant to treat her.

Dr. Perloff counseled Rosemary that spinal injections would be harder to place with an increased risk of spinal headache, but Rosemary moved forward with treatment and had equally good results.

“Overall, both are doing a lot better, but it’s frustrating to witness what seemed to be essentially a miracle cure diminish over time. It’s part of the challenge of this field. For some, spinal injections can offer permanent relief. For others, more interventions may be necessary,” said Dr. Perloff. “Pain-free may not be possible, but pain ‘much-better’ usually is.”

Both women agree that a positive attitude is their most effective ally to deal with the lingering pain.

Jacqueline has since visited BMC’s Pain Management Group to undergo neurolysis, a procedure that allowed Dr. Perloff to burn away spinal nerve fibers through a small incision in her skin. It’s another step in her pain management journey and getting back to circle time with her preschoolers.

“Dr. Perloff is a great guy, and I tell him, too,” said Jacqueline.

“I’m so glad I went to BMC,” seconded Rosemary, who is now taking neuromuscular blockers under Dr. Perloff’s guidance. “I know how much it has helped to relieve the pain.”

 

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