Suzanne Ely was not yet 30 when she began to notice numbness and tingling in the fingers of her right hand. Then came the fiery pains, as shattering as electrical shocks, that shot up and down the inside of her right arm from wrist to elbow.
She couldn't figure it out. She hadn't hurt her arm in any way. Finally, she realized that the injury was probably the hours and hours of taking notes by hand each day at her job. Little by little, the pain bit into her ability to do the simplest things – like opening the door to her office.
The Menlo Park woman wasn't a complainer. "I love what I do and I didn't want not to work," she said. That was why, when doctors said they could move what they believed to be the problematic nerve, she took a chance. But that surgery, and then another one, didn't work. If anything, the pain was worse, harshly altering Ely's life. After six months of not being able to work and isolated by increasing depression, frustration and dependence on others to do even small tasks, she turned for help conveniently close to home—the Stanford Hospital & Clinics' Pain Management Center.
She is one of thousands enduring acute and chronic pain who arrive each year at the Center because nothing else has worked and no one else could make a difference.
Ely had great hope for what she might find at Stanford's Pain Management Center. It is just one of 12 treatment facilities in the U.S. to win the American Pain Society's designation as a Center of Excellence.
Ely's treatment began with an extensive evaluation by a team of physicians, nurses, physical and psychological therapists and other staff who fashioned an individualized and broad-ranged treatment plan for her. "We explore all the options," said the Center’s director, Dr. Sean Mackey.
Ely's diagnosis was one that reflects a common, but one of the most challenging, pain conditions. Her evaluation showed she suffers from complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic pain ailment described first by a Civil War surgeon caring for soldiers still in pain despite the healing of their musket wounds.
Pain's disruption of Ely's life is, unfortunately, not unusual. More than 50 million Americans are estimated to be living with pain so debilitating that it is costing billions in lost work and medical care. And many times its cause may be unclear. Research to understand its behavior and how to manage it has only recently begun to find explanations and solutions.
The Stanford Pain Center is the location for more than a dozen trials for new treatments which often can become part of its patients' treatment plans, as one did for Ely. She was an early recipient of one of the Center's newest approaches – Botox injected directly into a nerve center. Others have benefited from implant pumps to deliver paced doses of medication and implanted stimulators to convert pain to a tingling, buzzing sensation.