by Jannie White
Michigan Power Over Pain Action Network Leader
Jannie White is a tough woman who has worked hard at hard jobs for most of her life. Her work in manufacturing led to leadership positions such as being named the Single Point of Authority, responsible for knowing state and federal OSHA rules. In 2004, she was a press operator in Detroit when metatarsal safety boots with too much steel padding caused a bunion. Knowing the ins and outs of safety in often dangerous situations, she never thought something like surgery for a bunion would bring her down.
“The day after my surgery, I woke up with cutting, stabbing burning pain. The doctor removed my cast and my foot was swollen and as red as an apple,” she says. After more than a year of pain that did not go away, a foot specialist said her bone had not healed properly and Jannie was left to suffer with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).
RSD, which is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, affects between 200,000 and 1.2 million Americans. It is characterized by pain, swelling and abnormal sympathetic nerve activity, which can cause intense burning pain. The pain is out of proportion to the injury, which, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, can sometimes be as minor as a paper cut or small bruise. Jannie describes her pain as a creeping sensation of a spider moving back and forth with torches across her back, leg and foot. She tries to control her pain by staying in tune with her body, staying away from food and drinks that do not make her well and keeping her stress level under control. Jannie insists that her husband and three children not help her until she can’t help herself.
“People tend to think that pain is a mental problem, that it’s all in your head, even in the medical field,” says Jannie. She credits her faith and coping skills that she learned as a child to get her pain under control, but is hesitant to give too much credit to the medical community. Unfortunately, the doctors that Jannie feels have believed her have been too few. “Good doctors have a listening ear and a caring heart. I can tell they really care. I really stand up and salute them.”
Jannie’s experience with pain led her to the American Pain Foundation’s Power Over Pain Action Network, where she is Michigan’s state leader. She raises awareness of pain issues through community events, a support group that she founded, and media outreach. She has also extensively worked with elected officials to educate them about pain issues, worked to get an RSD bill passed in the state and secured state proclamations for September Pain Awareness Month in 2008 and 2009. Jannie also volunteers with the RSD Association and the National Organization of Rare Diseases. “We have a right to change doctors, do research, and ask questions. Getting good pain care is a right. No one should have to suffer like this,” Jannie says.