One fateful day in 1996, a heavy gust of wind changed Richard James’ life forever. James was holding a large sheet of stainless steel on a construction site when the wind violently twisted him. The result was a severe back injury, an enormous amount of ongoing pain and the end of his career in construction.

For James, surgery has never been an option because of the chance for permanent injury. With surgery out of the question, he looked for ways to ease his pain. He briefly attended physical therapy sessions. He turned to opioid pain medications. Each month, he received 100 pills. He wanted to find a way to avoid taking so many, but he didn’t know what to do.

“I tried to work out in the gym, and I hurt myself trying to make my stabilizer muscles stronger. It actually hurt me more than it helped me,” James said. “I went back to the doctor, and they did the same thing again in giving me more pain meds. They just said here, sign this with no follow-up, no blood test, no social worker or nothing, and I believe this is how the opioid crisis started in America by just giving people all these pain meds. Just sitting on the couch with pain medication doesn’t work.”

In searching for relief, James came to Eskenazi Health for the Integrative Pain Program (IPP) under the direction of Dr. Palmer MacKie. The program focuses on improving a person’s overall quality of life without an emphasis on medication. As James soon learned, the IPP offers a variety of treatment options to help individuals manage chronic pain.

Newly referred IPP patients are required to attend pain school, which is a series of 90-minute classes on education and skill development that meet twice a week for five weeks. Each session offers exercises for body and mind. Participants are expected to set daily personally meaningful goals that incorporate new skills learned and practiced during pain school.

“Dr. MacKie and the IPP team have me walking three-four miles a day. It hurts, but I’m out doing that and not at home feeling sorry for myself,” James said. “And I’m not just sitting around waiting for the next shoe to drop. I’m actually improving my life. I’ve lost weight, I’ve started to meet people and I’ve got my own place to live. It’s literally been life-changing, the difference the Integrative Pain Program makes. The whole staff, they work in unison to make you accountable for what you do every day. They have a whole group between the nurses, the social worker, the doctors and a nurse practitioner. All of them work together. They’re constantly following up on every aspect of your life, and that’s what makes this program work.”

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