Curing three years of pain with a three-minute procedure

Debilitating chronic rectal pain left Virginia resident Cheryl Curran feeling depressed and hopeless. She traveled the East Coast visiting specialists hoping to find relief. But with each appointment, she felt more defeated. That is until she met Bayhealth Colorectal Surgeon Elsa Goldstein, MD, who helped Curran finally understand the source of her pain as well as the path to an easy cure.

Curran described her pain as an unbearable burn, like her muscles were being torn apart. She struggled to sit comfortably and the pain interfered with her ability to live a normal life. She was prescribed pain pills to help her sleep at night. “There was a limit on the number of pills I could get filled at a time, and I only had enough to get me through the night,” she said. “I was scared and desperate. I was in pain 24 hours a day, and that’s no way to live.”

After an unsuccessful and painful trip to a specialist in Baltimore, Maryland, who had a reputation for being the best, Curran admits she hit her lowest point. “I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy late in life,” she explained. “He did an MRI and colonoscopy to see what was causing the pain. When nothing showed up, he told me it was likely a symptom of the muscular dystrophy, and I needed to learn to live with it,” Curran said. “It was devastating to think I could spend the rest of my life suffering. I felt like giving up on life.”

Nevertheless, Curran pushed away the feelings of hopelessness, determined to find relief for her pain. She asked her insurance company for a list of all covered physicians, both local and out of state. Dr. Goldstein was on the list. “We read about her, and had a good feeling about her,” said Curran. So Curran made the hour-and-a-half trip.

Dr. Goldstein performed an examination called an anoscopy by using a small, rigid, tubular instrument called an anoscope. This is inserted a few inches into the anus in order to evaluate problems. The test revealed a large tear in Curran’s anal canal. “It’s very common and usually caused by passing a hard stool,” Dr. Goldstein said. “A tear in the anal canal can be difficult for a physician to diagnose because it’s hard to examine people in so much pain.”

“When someone has a tear in the anal canal, a bowel movement triggers an excruciating spasm in the muscle that can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours,” Dr. Goldstein explained. “It’s so painful; it would bring grown men to their knees. Some patients stop eating to avoid having a bowel movement, and that’s very unhealthy.”

Curran described her appointment with Dr. Goldstein as “life-changing.” Dr. Goldstein gave her hope. “She understood the pain I was describing within five minutes of talking to me, and then she spent two hours thoroughly explaining the procedure to fix the tear,” Curran said. “I met with more than 10 doctors before we found Dr. Goldstein, and she was the first one who knew what was wrong and had a plan to fix it.”

Dr. Goldstein performed a lateral internal sphincterotomy on Curran in August at Bayhealth Milford Memorial to repair the tear. The minimally invasive procedure is performed on the internal anal muscle. “The operation only takes a couple of minutes,” Dr. Goldstein said. “A pinpoint incision is made and generally only one stitch is needed, and there are no restrictions for the patient afterwards.”

Although surgery was the best treatment option for Curran, Dr. Goldstein said there are medications and Botox injections that can be used if the tear is found early. She recommends patients experiencing any rectal or abdominal pain, even if it’s mild, schedule a consultation with a colorectal physician for an evaluation.

Driving home from the hospital after the procedure, Curran felt relief from the pain that had ailed her for so many years. “It was day surgery. We checked in the hospital and a few hours later we were driving home, and I already felt a difference,” Curran said. “Dr. Goldstein gave me my life back, and I’m forever grateful.”

Visit to learn more about Dr. Goldstein and the services she provides. To find a Bayhealth physician to fit your needs, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS.

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