Healthwatch 16: ‘Garden of Hope’ for Pain Management

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- People who deal with chronic pain are often prescribed medication, pain killers, to allow them some quality of life.

But increasingly, there are programs looking to alleviate pain other ways, such as physical activity, meditation, art therapy, and gardening.

One man from Columbia County admits he was a skeptic about that until such a program gave him his life back.

A man playing catch with his nephew is not an uncommon sight on a sunny summer day. But this is something Chuck Price, 51, of Bloomsburg, wasn't sure he'd ever do again.

"People with chronic pain, I say it takes away your DNA. It takes away what you're made of."

Chuck has battled chronic pain for 15 years, after a diagnosis of a degenerative disc disease. He's endured five back surgeries and numerous injections. But it was a bad reaction to prescription medication that made him say enough was enough.

"A couple of years ago, I was in a deep depression. I was overweight, miserable. My family called me Jekyll and Hyde -- I'd be happy as can be one minute and the next as miserable as a bear."

Chuck was referred to Geisinger Health System's multidisciplinary pain program or MPP, which started three years ago.

Registered Nurse Dawn Snyder says they did their homework.

"We looked at what Mayo Clinic was doing, what other facilities were doing because we knew we weren't doing a very good job," Snyder explained. "Patients were still having a lot of pain, and their quality of life was dramatically affected."

Snyder says what they found was that pain isn't just physical -- it involves emotional, social, and spiritual aspects, too.

They created a sort of toolbox for their chronic pain patients; therapists offering yoga and stretching, for instance; social workers to address addiction issues; and health and nutrition courses.

They also added some greenery--the Garden of Hope.

Dr. John J. Han is the director of pain medicine for the Geisinger Health System. He says the Garden of Hope is one of the more popular offerings of the MPP. It was named, was partially built, and is mostly maintained by chronic pain patients, a beautiful array of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Dr. Han says healthy living starts with eating good healthy food, which isn't always available or affordable to his patients and is thanks to this garden. But there are other benefits too.

"It helps the patient come out of their house, be more socially active with other patients, and be more energized," said Dr. Han.

Chuck is not much for gardening and wasn't sure any part of the MPP would work for him.

"You have no idea. I was highly skeptical. I didn't believe any of it," he said.

But certain parts of it did work for him. He's now 60 pounds lighter and takes 10 percent of the pain medication on which he used to rely.

And he's coaching his nephew's baseball team.

"I took out of it the things that worked for me and put 'em to work. And here I am."