HARRINGTON, Del. - Imagine the wind on your face, the raindrops on your skin and even the clothes rubbing against your back--all painful.
Fourteen years ago, Autumn Stevens was involved in a car accident that triggered a mysterious disease. It's called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS—formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or RSD. It's a chronic pain disorder that can affect any area of the body, but most often, an arm or a leg.
"Just my jeans rubbing against my lower legs, was burning. If I'm somewhere and there's an air vent blowing down, it burns. As if you had sunburn and somebody was smacking the sunburn," she said.
"Sweating, swelling, pain, temperature change, color change -- all those are sympathetic functions of the body. The sensory and the sympathetics go haywire-- almost always following an injury. And so you have sensory malfunction. People don't sense things with any of their five senses the way that they should," Assistant Professor of Medicine & Neurology at Drexel School of Medicine Dr. Philip Getson said.
For Autumn, at just 34-years-old, every day is a different struggle. Whether it's the smell of cigarettes or the touch of a cold object --even the lights from our cameras will cause her to wince.
"It's rated on the McGill pain index as greater than the amputation of a digit or childbirth or cancer pain," Executive Director at Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association Jim Broatch said.
Autumn also suffers from noise-induced pain -- referred to in the medical world as Hyperacusis. She's hyper-sensitive to certain sounds, like a deep voice, loud music or a knock on her door.
"Lawnmowers are a big issue for me, somebody slamming a door. And when it's unexpected, it's worse than if I know that it's coming," she said.
But perhaps even more debilitating—the perception by those around her—that it's all in her head.
"I think it is sad to me. That that's how people perceive it. It's sad," she said.
Tomorrow night in part two of this series, Autumn opens up about the misconceptions surrounding the disorder, how it can lead to discrimination and cause someone's life to spiral downwards.
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