For 17-year-old Bloor West resident Feli Langlois, what seemed to be a normal growth spurt turned into an ongoing and debilitating bout of agony.
Langlois went through a growth spurt at about 10 years of age and, rather than having the pain associated with such growth spurts end when she stopped growing, she wound up missing school and, when the pain was as its worst, virtually being bed-ridden.
The teen wound up being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a syndrome that causes body-wide pain and tenderness and can lead to fatigue, sleeplessness, headaches and other symptoms.
“It was getting harder and harder for me to fall asleep, and the doctors said there was nothing wrong repeatedly,” she said. “The situation escalated over the next year or so until I was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a rheumatologist.”
Even after her diagnosis, finding the right treatment was difficult. Langlois and her family had to advocate for her to get treatment and were left to do a lot of research on the syndrome on their own.
Dealing with the pain wound up impinging on her ability to function normally.
“It affected my schooling and my ability to get up in the morning,” she said. “My joints were much more tense and I was in a lot of pain when I woke up so I missed a lot of morning classes.”
By the time she reached Grade 10, Langlois was practically unable to function. She wound up missing, in her estimation, three months worth of classes and saw her school performance drop off after making the honour roll in Grade 9.
“It was pretty upsetting because some people kept saying ‘Oh, you’re just in distress, you’re just going through a rough time,’” she said.
After visiting a sleep clinic and a psychologist, to no avail, Langlois finally found relief at the SickKids Hospital’s Pain Clinic.
There, she was given medication to help deal with the pain and began meeting with a physiotherapist. She began doing yoga and changed her eating habits to help keep the symptoms of fibromyalgia at bay.
Since making those changes, her pain has been far more manageable.
“At one point, my pain was about a 10 out of 10 and I couldn’t even get out of bed,” she said. “Now, I can’t even compare it to that; it’s a two out of 10 or maybe even a one.”
She is even able to take her pain in stride, joking with her parents that, due to aches and soreness, she is able to tell them when it’s going to rain.
“I’d just tell anyone going through this not to give up and not to let anybody tell them they can’t do something,” she said. “You’re not a burden and it’s not your fault you’re in pain.”
Langlois’ story is one of the many placed under the spotlight over the just-completed Pain Awareness Week, an international initiative to draw attention to the issues surrounding pain.
SickKids Hospital held various events to shine a light on pain over the week, including education initiatives and teachings on distraction techniques.
“We see about 100,000 children at SickKids every year and 77 per cent of them endure some kind of pain during their stay,” said Dr. Fiona Campbell of the hospital’s department of anesthesia and pain medicine. “Two-thirds of these are in moderate to severe pain.”
Campbell noted chronic pain – that lasting for longer than three months – drains some $37 billion annually from the Canadian economy.
Some 25 per cent of people will experience chronic or recurrent pain, while five per cent will deal with pain-related disability.
“They have difficulty sleeping, have a significantly higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicide and are unable to attend school or work,” she said.
For more information about the hospital’s pain initiatives, visit www.sickkids.ca/Anaesthesia