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Next time you stub your toe or trap your finger in a door and you feel like screaming because the pain is so intense for about three seconds, then spare a thought for Paige Howitt.
The 23 year-old from Great Barr, Birmingham, suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which she was diagnosed with in 2015 and is said to cause the most pain a human can physically endure.
Due to the excruciating pain, she is forced to sleep next to a freezer filed with ice packs so that she has instant access to them. She also sleeps with a pregnancy pillow around her leg and gets an average of just four hours sleep a night due to the severity of the pain.
The pain experienced by people with the rare and incurable disease is rated on the McGill pain index chart as being worse than childbirth, amputation of a limb, breaking a bone and cancer.
Paige, a trade analyst, has spent the past six years in 24/7 agony and is now trying to raise £25,000 ($33,000) for her own hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) chamber, which would help alleviate some of her pain.
If she can't raise the money to buy the chamber, she runs the risk of having her leg amputated.
"I can't even begin to describe how hard it's been," she says. "The pain is always there, every minute of the day. It has effectively ruined my social life.
"If people want to go out and get drinks, or go to the cinema, it's almost impossible for me because the knee always has to be in certain positions to stop it being more painful.
"I can't sit on the sofa without it being propped up, and when I go to bed I have to spend hours getting comfortable.
"At any one time, my knee is either blue from the cold or red from the burning sensation, and nothing in between.
"Apparently, according to the McGill Pain Scale, my pain is described as being 'above childbirth', which I obviously can't comment on because I haven't had any children.
"But what's really difficult is just the fact that the pain is never not there, and in that respect I would much rather have the pain of pregnancy.
"I suffer from depression and anxiety due to it, every day I want to give up knowing I'm out of options.
"I've hit rock bottom."
Paige says the ordeal began in 2011, when she had an operation to realign her left kneecap. Due to complications, she was later diagnosed with CRPS Type Two.
Paige initially tried physiotherapy and a programme of desensitisation to help her adapt to the pain, but recently started going to the Wolverhampton MS Therapy Centre for specialist treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
The chamber works by effectively enhancing the body's natural healing process by inhaling 100 percent oxygen for around an hour.
She was initially 'amazed' by the effects of the treatment, which severely reduced the level of pain she was in. After going for 20 consecutive days, was told to come back two or three times a week.
Due to financial pressures and the stress of travelling, however, she had to give up going to the centre and so is looking to raise cash for her own chamber. A Just Giving page has been set up, which you can find here.
"The problem is that I just can't handle the pain, and there is no known cure or way to fix it," she said. "I effectively have two opinions - to either raise money for my own machine, or to have my leg amputated.
"CRPS has changed so much of my life and has took away my dreams. I need some sort of hope and relief and having a HBOT chamber at home can give me that."
Words: Mischa Pearlman
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