Julian Phillips has battled chronic pain for over 30 years. In his early 20s, Julian was athletic and active. He enjoyed weekly water polo games with friends in his hometown of London, but after his right ring finger snapped backward while he was defending the goal during a match, his life changed. The pain from his injury did not go away, and after treatments and multiple surgeries, he opted to have his finger amputated. Four months later the pain spread to his little finger. He had developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). RSD causes the nerves in the body to misfire sending constant pain signals to the brain.
For the next decade he had one or two surgeries per year, searching for relief, but nothing helped. A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) worked for a while, but after a work accident he could no longer feel its positive effects and had to turn to medications to help control his pain.
The RSD continued to spread through his body. Julian eventually had to quit work. He went back to school and received his master’s degree in business administration. He began seeing a professional counselor and got involved with the U.S. Pain Foundation as an ambassador. He credits his wife and family as his ultimate support. Says Julian, “Pain has led me on a journey, and I like where I am today. While I suffer every day, I know I can make a difference. I just want to become a strong voice and bring visibility to an invisible cause. I am not giving up.”
Not surprisingly, opioid therapy has been part of Julian’s care regimen for many years. Because opioid-induced constipation (OIC) is such a personal and somewhat embarrassing subject, he found it extremely difficult to discuss it not just publically, but with his medical team as well. As a result, he suffered with it in silence unnecessarily for about six years
Julian’s therapist helped him break through the embarrassment. “Once discussed openly I realized the stupidity of it and even the humor in it and was able to open up to my doctor and ultimately anybody and everybody. Why are we so embarrassed? Not being a psychologist I am clueless except for my personal experiences: at home I became known as the master toilet blocker and gradually my wife became the master toilet un-blocker or plumber.” I felt both guilt and embarrassment over what she had to endure because of my OIC.
Julian believes issues with OIC are serious both psychologically and physiologically. Although he jokes that he now has some idea of what it must feel like for a woman to give birth, he says the reality is that it is not too far from the truth. Oftentimes, a day or two prior to being able to empty his bowels, he would go through contractions/cramps that would bend him in half. During and after, there was a great deal of pain and bleeding. “When you already suffer from pain day-in and day-out 24/7, OIC can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There have been times that I have sat on a toilet and balled my eyes out with pain. Perhaps worse, still is the fact that we humans find it hard to be open and talk about our bodily functions even to our loved ones, let alone to a professional we may not see very often.”
Julian continues to deal with OIC as well as pain. What motivates and strengthens him during the darkest days is his loving family and his incredible wife. Julian believes his wife deserves the credit. “Geraldine is a trooper. She has never complained and always says, ‘whatever you need, we will do. I just want you—nothing else.’ She made the ultimate sacrifice, and I am so lucky to have her.” As a young kid, Julian lived by the words, “pain builds character.” He never realized how powerful that mantra would be.