An Ahwatukee Foothills nurse wants Valley residents to understand that managing chronic pain isn't a matter of being an addict.
Vicky Jerdee is a state leader for the American Pain Foundation, a nonprofit resource for people dealing with pain. The foundation is campaigning for a presidential proclamation to designate September as National Pain Awareness Month, according to APF's website.
Jerdee, 51, works on behalf of the foundation by giving presentations and passing out printed materials about pain, she said.
She informs people about how to make appointments with their doctors more efficient. She advises people to do things like take a list of questions to medical appointments. And she suggests questions to include on that list.
A registered nurse since 1982, Jerdee knows there are misconceptions about chronic pain, she said. And she knows firsthand.
Jerdee was 43 when she had a stroke at the end of July in 2003.
She was in the bathroom of the hospital where she worked when the stroke occurred. Jerdee said she spent the next eight hours in the emergency room before being sent home.
The nurse returned to work the next day, but she immediately noticed weakness, she said.
"I was able to walk, and to stand up, and everything," Jerdee said. "But I noticed that I was kind of dragging my foot. And I was having trouble at work, like writing (and) being able to chart. The longer the hours I worked, then I would start to see that I was dragging my foot more, or I was having more difficulty writing."
The pain changed in the following months, she said. Jerdee had abnormal body temperatures. She lost some toenails and fingernails. She had abnormal swelling below her waist, and her legs and feet burned and tingled, she said.
"My legs changed color," Jerdee said. "They would swell to the point that it looked like the skin was just going to kind of shred apart. And they might be swollen for a couple hours, and then they'd go down."
By November of 2003, the pain had stopped her from being able to work, Jerdee said.
She sought pain management a year later and was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, Jerdee said. The syndrome is a neurological pain disorder.
Jerdee would rate her functioning level amid pain at that time as a one, on a scale of one to 10, she said. Now she'd rate her functioning at an eight.
The current rating is the best so far.
Jerdee, who regularly visits her doctor, has a regimen for managing her pain that includes medication and various therapies, she said.
Jerdee takes Lyrica to treat her neurological pain, she said. She does yoga at least three times per week. And she does dotted imagery therapy, which involves listening to a recording that narrates deep breathing and relaxing visualization.
The nurse said she also receives injections for back pain and does radiofrequency therapy.
Radiofrequency therapy is an outpatient procedure in which one or more nerves are burned to stop impulses for pain, Jerdee said.
"I found I got a lot of relief with that," she said. "They go in and they do injections (of a steroid and a local anesthetic). And if the injection works, then they will go in and burn the nerve."
Nerves can regenerate after being burned, she added. Her first use of the therapy involved burning a nerve in her neck. The nerve had to be burned again about 15 months later.
Living with chronic pain isn't solely a physical issue, Jerdee said. The stress of dealing with chronic pain affected the nurse's cognitive ability.
"That's why I don't bedside nurse anymore," she said. "Cognitively, I don't think fast enough and I don't always remember."
Prior to her stroke, Jerdee worked in a cardiac catheterization lab - a high-stress job that required her to function very quickly.
After her stroke, she "had to accept that I could no longer be that person," Jerdee said. "So there's a loss of yourself. The stroke was bad enough, but then you put the pain condition on top of it. You have several losses there. I couldn't be the same mother that I was. I couldn't be the same nurse that I was."
The American Pain Foundation became part of Jerdee's efforts to deal with her pain, she said.
"It was a way to still be able to use my nursing and be active with something - and not just be left with nothing at home, but to deal with my pain," Jerdee said. "So it was an outlet for me."
And her message is straightforward.
"It's OK to say that you have pain," she said. "It's OK to ask for treatment."
More information about the American Pain Foundation can be found at www.painfoundation.org.
• Kiali Wong is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.