What Chronic Illness is Like for a Nurse

Pamela Fellbaum, cozying up.

Pamela Fellbaum, cozying up.

I don’t love talking about chronic illness, especially when I’m referring to myself. I balk at the notion I belong to that category. Over the years, however, I’ve come to accept that about myself.

I’m currently finishing up a two year full time Nurse Practitioner program. This has easily been the hardest two years of my life. I’ve appropriately taken on the word “PERSISTENCE” as my motto as I feel that although I have worked my way through the program it has taken more persistence then I ever thought possible.

For example: I suffered a significant concussion in the first two months of my program that limited my ability to read (try reading endless articles and writing scholarly papers feeling dizzy and nauseous and knowing medically that you were probably doing more damage by not resting your brain). This past January I was in a car accident where a pedestrian was struck and I was the first on scene. Luckily the young man was ok, but to say it wasn’t traumatic would be an understatement. Then on top of all of this is the chronic pain of my migraines. It’s hard to explain really, and probably even harder for someone to understand, but I pretty much function on a daily basis with some form of a headache, sometime mind numbing pain, other times just a general feeling of pressure! To make matters worse stress will frequently increase the pain and severity of my headaches! (and its been stressful!)

Mine is the orange truck…..I wasn’t hurt…but it was a crazy mess!!!

Mine is the orange truck…..I wasn’t hurt…but it was a crazy mess!!!

So…..yes, I’ve had some challenges, but I’m not writing this to ask for sympathy or a “good job”, I’m writing this because I’ve recently realized that there may be a purpose behind my struggles, behind my pain.

I’ve seen many patients that are dealing with chronic pain. I can see the mental pain when they realize this problem isn’t going away. As their practitioner, I don’t want to tell them that there is a cure, or that they may become pain free — perhaps it may happen for some, but it isn’t often the goal.

So I have sat back in my chair and listened as they tear up. They speak about the things they have given up and the stress that it causes their family. But as they speak, I have realized something — they are grieving, and THAT I could relate too.

When I label their pain as grief I can see the stress float away. There is a realization that it is ok to feel the way they feel, and that maybe, just maybe, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I wouldn’t have come to this conclusion without my personal struggles, and that being able to relate to my patients is a gift I’ve been given. Is my pain a curse on me? or a punishment for something I’ve done?? Well I’ve considered this, but in the end I reject those ideas and instead embrace the reality that my pain eases others, the empathy I possess gives others hope.

This gives my pain purpose, and this purpose gives ME hope which allows me to embrace it and move forward.

What about you? Do you experience chronic pain? How do you get through it?


Pamela is a nurse practitioner in Canada. This essay originally appeared on the Beautiful Voyager Medium publication. Read Pamela’s essay What I've Learned By Chronicling Pain. Want to share your own story? Here’s how.