Dear Alberta Government,
It’s been a while since last we spoke, and a lot has happened in the Province of Alberta. Alison Redford is no longer High Supreme Commander of the Good Ship Lollipop, and Health Minister Fred Horne is the Intern Premier (Inmiere? Preterm?) Good for you, Fred. I’m proud of you, especially given our close relationship that developed through that letter you sent me where you basically said “Nope, sorry, that’s the way it is. A Hurr hurr hurr.” I’m really proud of you, Fred.
Things have happened in my life too. I’m getting married this summer to a wonderful man. I finished my novel and am preparing to self-publish it. I finished my third year of University. Yup! Life is good on the Starship Sawisky. Apart, and I don’t mean to complain, apart from this one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little issue that still remains. I still have severe and debilitating chronic pain.
Funny, I know, right? Two nights ago it was so funny that I was up until three a.m. in agony as it felt like the hands of Beelzebub himself crushed my ribs towards my lungs. Hi-larious stuff.
But you know me, Fred. I keep my chin up. I have a good attitude, or so they say in all my files. I don’t allow my debilitating condition to affect my attitude towards life or my enjoyment of it. Sure, debilitating pain means that I can’t work the traditional summer jobs held out for people like me. I can’t be on my feet for 8 hours in retail. Can’t stand stationary behind a bar, lubricating those well-oiled vocal cords of Alberta’s MLAs. No, I need to work short hours where I can be allowed to sit. I need accommodations to be made, and when I can’t find places willing to make them, I end up in situations like this. My dear old piggy bank, the lord god bless and keep him, has been emptied of his considerable wealth and gone to the big old Bank in the sky (see: Alberta Legislature).
In my defence, desperate times lead to desperate measures. My fiancé has taken on the brunt of the wedding burden, and while I’m not a Bridezilla and don’t require gilded lilies that have been enchanted to sing my praises as I waltz down the aisle on the arm of Robert Downey Jr. it would be nice if we could feed our guests, and if I could, you know, contribute something other than my glorious presence.
But alas, my attempts to receive any form of funding via AISH or, alternately, selling my soul to the Devil, have resulted in utter failure. Apparently the souls of the members of Alberta’s Legislature Assembly have really overwhelmed hell in recent times, and mine has been deemed worthless. Fair enough, it was used and pretty dirty from all the time I’ve spent rolling coin.
Here’s the thing, Fred. As the Health Minister I had hoped, recklessly I’ll admit, that by addressing you more directly in previous open letters that you might have a solid understanding of my position. Not because you’ve been in my shoes. No, no. Let’s be clear, there is no way you could possibly grasp what it is like to live in Chronic Pain. Each case is extraordinary in its own way, and each individual responds to the trials and tribulations of daily chronic pain in different ways. My experiences at the CPC in Calgary have showed me that there is a heavy instinct, especially in older patients trying to become accustom to their new-found life of agony, to roll up in a corner and wait for the darkness to pass. What I know, and hope you are aware of as well, Fred, is that the pain never goes away. That is the key point of chronic pain. It is forever. It will never get better, but very likely may get worse. Now, I don’t mean to be ‘that sort of youthful interloper’, but I would much rather deal with chronic pain later on in life. At the very least I have memories of better days that I can relieve through my Recollection X190 machine that surely must be in production by now.
Alas I am left with memories of… Um, something. It’s been almost thirteen years of chronic pain, so my memories pretty much entail getting my hair pulled by my brothers and trying to hide grape juice stains from my mum. My twenties, which I have been told are supposed to be the best years of my life, are marred by pain, Fred. I wake up in the morning in pain. I have a shower, get dressed, all in pain. I have little to no appetite because of pain, but force myself to eat because my loved ones believe I will instantly stop taking care of myself if they cease asking questions. I get through the day, all in pain. I go for walks, because they are good for my back, even though they cause me pain. I do the first movements of Wing-chun because they don’t cause me pain but give me a way to focus myself when I am in pain. Which is, you know, most of the time. I try to channel my pain into more creative pursuits.
But when all else fails and the bills pile up and the bank comes a calling and Mr. Oinkers lays on the floor in shatters, I will still be in pain. Jobs are still, and always will be, hard to come by because our province, and indeed our society is not built to properly assist those in chronic pain. It takes one appropriately worded doctor’s note, citing that the patient is in extreme pain and cannot function in normal society for the Province of Alberta to cut a cheque to the oilfield worker who hurt his back and simply cannot work. What about us that try to make the best of it? What about those of us that have learned to cope and channel our pain and exist in spite of it all? We have honest doctors who fill out forms where they declare that we are handling the physical aspects of our chronic pain well. What about the social aspects? The financial? What happens to us then? You see, Fred. I think it is sick that as a chronic pain sufferer I must be further punished by my province for existing the only way I know how: with a smile and a crude joke. I think it is sick that as a chronic pain sufferer I must somehow wear my pain on the surface, alienating those I love and losing their respect, if I simply want to be able to afford to existence. You know. As a person. You place me in an impossible situation. If I acted the way I feel I’m certain I would have AISH supprot, as well as a parade of government well-wishers at my doorstep. But, if I acted the way I feel I doubt I would hear from my family how proud they are of me; I doubt my friends would ever tell me again how impressed they are with how I deal with pain. In fact, I doubt I would have any friends at all.
You, Fred Horne and the rest of the MLAs of Alberta, place myself, and other chronic pain sufferers just like me, in an impossible situation. You exist in a reality that is separate from our own and yet impose the structure of your reality upon us, as if it is somehow a perfect fit. It isn’t, sir. You’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and no matter how many times you bash us around with that rubber mallet, we are still going to be in pain and still be in desperate need of financial support from the Government of Alberta.
Now, I could rehash the issues I have with AISH on a legal basis, that AISH uses terms like “Adult Interdependent Relationship” (the common-law replacement in Alberta) while not holding to the actual Government definition of Adult Interdependent Relationship, but you and everyone I have spoken to have proven that they aren’t interested in silly things like ‘legal definitions’ and your ‘fellow man’, so instead I will simply say this: I haven’t gone away, and neither has my pain. The only difference between me now and me six months ago is that I can no longer afford any of my medication, rent, or food and rely wholly on the kindness of others to ensure that I am able to exist. I’m not alone in these struggles, and it is about damn time someone in the Alberta Government took a few steps back from ‘politician’ and took a look at what it means to be ‘human’.
Kathleen Anna Sawisky, Esq.