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Her Life Without Pain



The first snowfall of the season left Karen Berning feeling almost a little giddy.

She grabbed her shovel and went to work, clearing her driveway for the first time in three winters. Every scoop was a reminder of how good her life is today.

“I’m able to shovel snow now and I am loving every bit of it,” says Karen, tossing snow in the air.

During almost two years of constant abdominal pain, a Sanford urogynecology specialist helped Karen figure out why she was hurting and led her through a series of treatments that brought her relief.

A mysterious pain

Before 2010, the Minnesota woman loved the outdoors – camping, hiking and gardening every minute she could be outside. But early that year she started experiencing pain in her lower left abdomen. Her regular doctor could tell where the pain was, but couldn’t figure out what was causing it.

That summer Karen was working at her desk when she was struck by a jolt of pain so severe that she collapsed, unable to move or even call for help.

“Try to imagine a butcher knife in your abdomen and every time you walk or move, it feels like it’s twisting around,” says Karen. “I lived with that for almost two years. It’s something hard for people to comprehend.”

A series of tests at her local clinic provided no further answers, but yet Karen was in constant pain. She saw an on-call doctor, then her regular doctor and even a gynecologist, who all compassionately treated her, ordering scans and tests, but nothing abnormal showed on the tests.

Karen’s life had become focused around her pain. In order to make it through a day of work, she’d take three ibuprofen at a time, several times a day. By evening, she’d come home exhausted from the pain and went to bed with a prescription pain pill and an ice pack. She was unable to walk very far or even sit and talk with people.

“When you feel like this, you’re not fun to be around,” says Karen. “Everything I enjoyed was taken away. I had no life because of the pain.”

Finding an answer

Two weeks after her collapse, Karen was referred to Dr. Kevin Benson, a specialist in Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery. From the moment she saw her appointment card, she had hope.

“I thought, if anybody is going to figure this out, it’s going to be somebody at a pelvic clinic,” says Karen. “Just walking into the office and seeing the gals at the front, their gentle smiles were a tone of comfort.”

Dr. Kevin Benson diagnosed Karen’s problem almost immediately; hypertonic pelvic floor myalgia, a constant contraction of the muscles inside the pelvis. He explained that the treatment wouldn’t be easy, but he would do everything he could to help end her pain.

“Karen’s condition was difficult for doctors to diagnose and to treat because it was caused by an intersection of several of the body’s systems”, says Dr. Benson. He often sees patients, like Karen, who have suffered with pain for months or even years because there are no clear-cut causes or answers to their problems.

“Part of what we have to do is evaluate all of the systems and see what problems are present,” says Dr. Benson. “We can help them, but often the pathway to us is circuitous and long.”

Over the next few months, Karen underwent a series of treatments including physical therapy, procedures and medications. He never gave up, so she didn’t either, she says.

“Just seeing the determination in his eyes helped keep me determined,” says Karen. “The entire staff was so compassionate. When you’re going through the lowest part of your life, I can’t say how much you need that support.”

While physical therapy helped improve her condition, Dr. Benson felt that surgery would be a good option to help improve her life even more. In September 2011, Dr. Benson performed a surgical repair to the muscles of her pelvic floor.

Life without limits

Today Karen’s pain is gone! A year after her surgery, she was back on the hiking trail and she and her husband hope to go camping again this summer. Last summer she even got to get back into her garden.

“It was heaven,” she says. “Getting to pull weeds in your garden is such a privilege.”

Dr. Benson says that women with pain or bladder control issues need to realize that there is help available, even if their regular doctors can’t pinpoint a problem. Sanford urogynecologists understand that a combination of factors can lead to these common symptoms:

  • Pressure or pain in the pelvis
  • Pain during urination
  • An urgency to urinate
  • Painful intercourse
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • “We have a level of care that you don’t get through a compartmentalized system,” says the specialist. “We can look at the bigger, wider picture and provide a better type of care.”

    Karen says she encourages other women who are living with pain or embarrassing symptoms to not give up until they get the help they need. Living life without pain allows her to savor every bloom in the garden and even the snowflakes that cover her driveway.

    “I have my life back,” says Karen. “No matter what your doctor is telling you, there is help available. You don’t have to suffer.”

    Posted Date: April 2013

    Her Life Without Pain

    Constant debilitating pain was taking away everything that Karen Berning loved about her life, but nobody could figure out what the problem was. A Sanford urogynecological specialist not only found out what was causing her problem, but also helped lead the treatments to end the pain and bring back the joys of life.