Saturday, January 13, 2018

๐Ÿ’ผ My Trip on the Pain Pill Roller-coaster ๐ŸŽข


My Trip on the Pain Pill Roller-coaster


Chronic Pain


A big thanks to my family. They were there through it all.



It was supposed to be a night of friends and food, but instead, it ended up being the night that changed my life forever, and not in a good way. 

There we were, stopped in the left-hand lane of the road – blinker on, waiting to turn left. I was turned a little looking into the parking lot to see whose cars were already there.

My husband, who was driving, said those famous last words, “Oh, shit!”. 

Next thing I know, things get blurry, and I feel four horrible burning sensations on the left side of my neck as my head is rocked back and forth against the headrest

One... pause… Two… pause… Three… (thinking, Oh my God, when will this stop) … Four. 
 
Everything was quiet, and I realized we had been rear-ended.

Beginnings of Pain


When I was in ninth grade, I fell on the gym floor. Always clumsy and big chested, falling was nothing new. It was a recipe that led to many falls throughout my life. It is hard to run and jump when you hold fifteen pounds of your total weight on your chest, but in PE, I did as I was told. 

This was the first time that I had hurt my knee. Two wrecks later, and at 18 years old, my knee had developed its now familiar creaking, popping, and cracking. 

At the time, the doctor said I would eventually need surgery as the cartilage broke down. Even though he said it would happen by thirty, I am now forty and luckily still do not need surgery. 

I am happy for that, but I still developed “early arthritis”. A term you get when you are in your late twenties, but you have the beginnings of arthritis like someone ten or twenty years older than you. 

No big deal.

I just had some pain in my knee, my shoulder, my jaw – all my old injuries – when the weather changed or if I overdid it. 

Then came the night of my new wreck. 

This one happened in 2011 and I was thirty-four years old. I had gone back to college, and I had an eleven-year-old daughter. She was not in the vehicle. 

I didn’t know that in that night, I would forever change. 

I would go down to the brink of suicide, and thankfully, back up.


One... Two… Three… Four

The car wouldn’t start, and we were on a busy four-lane street. 

Cars didn’t stop. They just kept whizzing by. 

So, there we were, stuck in the middle of the road – in the dark – praying that we wouldn’t get hit again. Finally, the cops come, and they say, “Can you move your car from the road, please?” 

Um... no. If we could have, it would have been done before they got there. 

They had a little attitude, but I can understand that with all the types of people they must deal with on a daily basis. 

One cop stayed with us until the ambulance and the wrecker came, and the other went over to the person who hit us. 

I get strapped into the bus, and we wait a little while as injuries of others are assessed. The ambulance driver gets in and says, “Wow, that guy is plastered.” I said, “Who?”. He replied, “The guy who hit you”.

While at the hospital waiting, and waiting... you know how it is..., the same cops that were at the scene came in to finish the paperwork. I asked if the guy had been arrested for drunk driving. The young cop said, "No, he wasn’t drunk". “He is the youngest of “insert last name of local rich family here”, and he is a good kid. He just stepped in a hole.” 

They then proceeded to tell me he was looking down for a second and just didn’t see us stopped to turn left. 

I didn’t ask what he was looking down at, but in the years that followed I would think, “What was he doing that was so important?”. I will never know, but every time I told people about that event and mentioned that “famous local family name”, I was treated to stories of drugs, unemployment, and debauchery. 

You know, the bad apple stories. 

So, he really wasn’t a “good kid” after all like the cop had said. He was a bad kid from a rich family who could afford to erase his mistakes. 

After the hospital determined nothing was broken, I went home. 

I was on pain pills and muscle relaxers for almost two weeks. My days consisted of trying to just lay flat in the bed as much as possible. 

One of the first things we found out from the cops was that the car that hit us was borrowed, and the owner lived in a city an hour away. 

A borrowed Cadillac Escalade going about 45 mph plowed into the back of our Mini Cooper and never saw us. 

Needless to say, our car was totaled. It didn’t look like it really, but the repair bill was over $14,000. I still have to say that our little car held up pretty well under the circumstances. We could have been killed. 

Given the shadiness of the details of the incident, we retained a lawyer the next day.

Chapter Two: Tests and Doctors


I first went to a doctor about 1 week after the accident, and that is how I made my way to a Chiropractor. 

They did x-rays and performed tests. Pictures were taken of the bruises on my back from whatever happened in the wreck. My neck had been knocked straight, which sounded shocking, but I later found was fairly common in rear-end collisions. I also had misalignment in my lower spine. They called this whiplash as well. 

Who knew you could get whiplash at both ends

We live in a state that has laws against suing individuals involved in motor accidents. All I could do is hope he had decent insurance. 

At the time, I thought I would just need money for my ER bill and the four months of the chiropractic care that was estimated. 

After about two weeks, the daily headaches were still going strong. I was off of medications, and my chiropractor said it could be neural and referred me to a neurologist. 

That doctor didn’t see any permanent damage. He said it was inflammation of the nerves which can take months to go away. I started taking a non-narcotic nerve pain pill called Gabapentin. 

While all this was going on, I got a new job working at a helicopter company. They catered to companies who have oil wells off the United States Gulf Coast. It was physically demanding, but I grew up in the country. I was tough. Plus, the doctors had released me to do the work. 

I felt good and thought the worse was behind me. 

I loved the job, it was seven on and seven off – a week vacation every other week. It was hard work, no doubt, but I got stronger and it got easier. 

After about 3 months in that job, I begin to have pain in my heels. I was told I had Gout, but they couldn’t reproduce the high uric acid content in further tests, so they threw that diagnosis out the window. Then my right leg started hurting if I sat too long. I would have to hobble along until it “worked the kink out”. 

I was in the ending stages of my chiropractic care, and they said it wasn’t coming from the spine. I just ignored it and chalked it up to being over thirty. 

Eventually, the pain expanded until I hurt in my feet and my hands, too. My elbows would hurt, my ribs…everywhere. I would wake up stiff and in pain. For a while I could get by with warm Epsom salt baths in the morning, but not for long. 

Whatever was going on progressed until I hobbled everywhere… all day... there was no more “working it out”. 

I started having trouble swallowing, too. It’s like my throat would just freeze. My hands would be puffy, with stiff achy fingers.

I was scared.

After test for MS, Lupus and RA, and about 20 other things, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and started taking Gabapentin again, and they added Cymbalta.

I was actually happy. 

After being in pain for a year, I had a diagnosis and treatment. 

The happiness was short lived. 

It didn’t take too long to realize that there was no cure, no sure-fire treatment, and no answers.

Many doctors don't even believe Fibromyalgia is real. At best, they think it is psychosomatic, at worst they think you are flat out faking it.

 

Chapter Three: Pain-Pill Months


After about a year on Gabapentin and Cymbalta, I was getting worse. I had to quit working, and my ability to do housework was limited. I knew something had to change, so I asked my doctor about opiate pain medication. 

First, we tried Tramadol, a synthetic opiate, but it gave me terrible headaches, nausea, and I would sweat buckets. I would wake up at night and my clothes and my sheets would be wet. I would have to get up and change before trying to go back to sleep.

After that, we tried a hydrocodone/acetaminophen combination. It just didn’t work. I would still have pain that made me pace. 

Finally, we tried Vicoprofen, a hydrocodone/ibuprofen combination that was a miracle drug. I took the lowest dose, and while I could take four pills a day, I only took two. 

I still woke up stiff and had to have an Epsom salt bath to get going, but I didn’t take my pills until in the evening after I got off work.

Things went well for a while, I finished my college degree, and I got another job. 

I was so happy, everything seemed to be falling into place. After rocky young adult years, and then the injuries, I thought I was finally on my way to a successful life. 
This went on for almost a year and then new symptoms came.

More pain, rashes, disabling fatigue…. more test…more x-rays. The doctors found nothing, so my rheumatologists said that my Fibromyalgia was getting worse. The rash was attributed to Lyrica, which actually made me high, so I didn’t much care that I couldn’t take it.

After a little over a year on Vicoprofen, I started having pain when I walked. Sharp, stabbing pain that was so intense I could no longer work. 

For a while, SAS shoes helped enough to work, but eventually even they couldn’t pull me through.  

My memory was terrible, my feet hurt, my whole body hurt, and I had times when I was unable to sleep. For a day and a half or so, I would just stay awake. Then I would really hurt.

At my doctor’s recommendation, I upped my Vicoprofen dose to three times a day.

The pain in my feet was called Neuropathy, the pain in my hands was called Reynaud’s Syndrome, and the mental incompetence was called “Fibro Fog”. These are all common secondary diagnoses for people who have Fibromyalgia. 

Over the next year, I did less and slept more. 

My doctor assured me that my life was normal for someone with my illness. In fact, there were many who were worse off than I was. I would see them in online support groups with many more complaints than I had – some were even in wheelchairs.



As the war against opiates raged on, myself and my support group people would rail against more legislation. We already had to face nasty looks at the pharmacy and rudeness from the employees. We were in daily, debilitating pain, but were treated like addicts. 

People made us feel like addicts. 

I was one of the people writing my congressman, writing the governor, writing my president, and even writing the DEA. 

Of course, I only had the energy to write each person once, but that isn’t the point. 

I advocated for the right to choose. Actually, I still do, but it wasn’t long before I saw this wasn’t the right choice for me.

After a few more months of increased dosage, I could hardly get up in the morning. The pain was worse then, and it would take half the day for me to get up to do anything. 

Sometimes, I would cry. I would wake up my husband because I was moaning in pain while I slept. 

Hell, often, I would wake myself up with the moaning. 

I never knew someone could be in such constant pain. 

Sometimes I would have so much stomach pain, I would lie moaning on the bathroom floor. My daughter or husband would have to help me to bed. After a colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and put on Bentyl twice a day for that. 

It helped little.

I felt weak. I knew people who had pins and rods in their body that were more active than me. I would talk to my doctor, and he would assure me that it was normal for people with Fibromyalgia. It is believed to be a problem in the nerves so that any sensation feels like pain. Anything the nerves controlled could have issues. 

Eventually, I got off the pills and on the pain patch Suboxone. 

Since Suboxone is also used by heroin addicts when they are getting clean, the dirty looks and bad attitudes at the pharmacy increased. I was on Cymbalta, Suboxone, Vicoprofen (occasionally for breakthrough pain), and a mild anxiety medication to help me sleep at night.

I was a zombie. Mostly sleeping, missing my daughter’s choir events, missing family functions, not cleaning house much, not working. 

Needless to say, I became very depressed. I couldn’t see living the rest of my life that way.

I asked my rheumatologist if my problems could be from side effects of my meds, and he said, “No. I don’t think so.”
 


One night I woke up from a dead sleep feeling like I was going to pass out. Having low blood pressure and a weak stomach, I was familiar with the feeling. It was first felt when my 3rd-grade teacher was talking to my mom about a root canal she got. Usually, you lay down when you feel that way, but I was already lying down.

I was sleeping for God’s sake!

I just brushed it off, but about a month later it happened again. Plus, over that month I was getting so weak I almost couldn’t walk from one end of the house to the other without feeling like I was going to pass out. The pain in my feet, and the weakness was so bad that I had to use the motorized carts at the grocery stores.

A 38-year-old woman using motorized carts!!

Again, I asked my rheumatologists about it, and he still said that it was my illness that was causing all my symptoms. 

I was at the ER 3 times in one year. They would just “monitor me” then send me home and tell me to follow up with my doctor. Everyone would always say what a good rheumatologist I had. That he was one of the best! 

So, I continued to listen to him. 


After a couple months of this, I got referred to a cardiologist, who then referred me to an even more specialized cardiologist because of “Long QT Syndrome”. A potentially fatal, irregular heartbeat in which your heart can stop beating. 
That is why I was waking up feeling like I was going to pass out!! 

He said it was probably my Cymbalta and told me to get off it, but said nothing about my pain meds. 

Some of the dizziness and faint feeling did get better after getting off of Cymbalta, but I was still weak and in tons of pain. 

My daughter was depressed, my husband was depressed, and I was depressed. One big depressed family. 

I would think that if it wasn’t for my daughter, I would kill myself. I couldn’t see going the rest of my life like I was. I had even come up with the “best age” to kill myself, where it wouldn’t scar my daughter to bad.

I knew the way, too. I would overdose on my pain meds, and it would look like an accident.

Even though that was a good plan, I would still fantasize about driving down to the Gulf where I would start swimming out.

I would just keep swimming.

Chapter Four: Research and the Light


Over the years, I have done much research on Fibromyalgia. It usually does occur after mental or physical trauma. It is a little-understood disease that many doctors still think is psychosomatic. 

It is important to note that psychosomatic doesn’t mean you are faking. You can’t stop it, and you can’t control it. 

During my research, I would find some stuff about Opioid-induced Hyperalgesia. A condition in which your bodies pain signals are out of whack.  I asked my doctor about it, but he said, “No, you are not on a high enough dose to make that happen.”

I believed him. I believed everything he told me.

Finally, one day I heard the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. It wasn’t the first time I had heard it, it had been out a while, but this time I just busted out crying. My daughter walked into my bedroom, where I practically lived then, and asked me why it made me cry. She said, “It never made you cry before. Why now?”. 

I just said that I didn’t know, and I didn’t.

But the next day, I listened to it again, and I stood up and just screamed. Not any words, just screaming in frustration, in pain, in depression…and I knew, I had to do something. 

The next day, I made an appointment with my general practitioner and got referred to a new Rheumatologist in town. She was just out of school, and I had hope that she would take an interest in my case.
 
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

The first thing she told me was to get off your pain meds. She said they can mess up test results and make you hurt worse. She said if you can do that, then you can come back and see me. In fact, she said I had to get off all my medications. 

I made an appointment for six weeks later, and then I went home.

She said I needed to be completely free of all my meds by two weeks before I saw her again. I set out a detox plan where I would gradually cut down so that at the end of four weeks, I was no longer on any meds. 

It wasn’t easy, and I would be lying if I told you it was. 

On the one hand, you have the mental block thinking that what you have been on for years made you worse. It is hard to admit that you, with the doctor’s help, made yourself sicker. 

The very thing that you advocated for made you hurt more. 

All those sleepless nights, all those painful days, were caused by something you willingly put in your body.

But I knew I had to do it, for me - for my family. 

At first, the pain increased, I couldn’t sit still. It took over my mind and washed out everything else. My anxiety was through the roof. I was sick. I couldn’t sleep. My body was detoxing, and it hated it.

During this time, I started researching more about Opioid-induced Hyperalgesia. I also read about how when you get off your pain pills, for a while, the pain increases…and oh buddy, it did. 

The things I learned helped me. I would just tell myself things would get better and if they didn’t, I could go back on my meds. I would take it one day at a time. Every time I was tempted to take a pill, I would say out loud to myself, “No, I can make it. I can make it at least one more day.” 

This went on for about 7 days, and then I started to feel better. A lot better! I hadn’t felt so good in a long time. I made it, too. I was clean by 4 weeks, so I was able to make that six weeks follow up. 

The doctor ran a ton of test that came back negative, so my diagnosis stood with just Fibromyalgia. She put me in physical therapy.

Chapter Five: Healthier, Happier, Less Pain



After a while of physical therapy, I started Yoga, which is great for chronic pain. It advocates listening to your body and not pushing past your limits. I felt great. I even started drinking herbal tea for natural remedies. 

I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out all the time. I slept when I needed to. My memory and concentration were better. I felt like a new woman. 

I was back. My personality was back. I was part of my family again – part of the world again.

Do I still hurt? Yes. Do I still have bad days? Yes, but everything is 80% better than it was when I was on all those meds.

Now if someone gives me attitude, it is people on pain pills who say my pain must not have been that bad. I even had someone say, “Tea and Yoga? Aren’t you lucky?”. But no, I wasn’t lucky, and it wasn’t easy.

I made the choice to try it, and you can, too.

Over the last year, I started working part-time, I am active in my life again. I sit in the living room instead of lying in bed all the time. I still do Yoga. 

I have talked to many people about my experience and some went through the same thing. I have spoken to people that have had numerous surgeries, ones that have hardware in their body, and even people with debilitating diseases. The ones who got off pain meds say they feel better. 

Much better!

It was just as much a miracle for them as it was for me – as it can be for you.
 

All you have to do is make the decision, and do it. 

It isn’t easy, but the benefits are there. They have been there for thousands of others, and they will be there for you. 

If you are on a high dosage of medications, check yourself into a detox center. You don’t have to go it alone, and there are medications they can use to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. 

Don’t use the excuse of work, money, or family to keep from getting help. 

You haven’t really been there for your family since you have been on all the meds, so what is one or two weeks in a detox center. 

You have spent thousands of dollars on treatments that are proven to make you hurt worse, so what is some more money to a detox center. 

I know where you are - few to none friends, outside the family circle, and hopeless.

When I was having heart problems, I couldn’t drive. The few friends I had would ask me to dinner, or over to their house, and when I said I couldn’t drive anymore, they just said well call me when you feel better. 

No one offered to come get me. No one offered to drive. 

I realized I had no real friends outside of my family, and you know what, that is just fine. 

Once you get YOU back, you start getting back your life. It may not be the old life you had before the pain, but it is a life better than the one you have had since the pain pills.

For me, it is a life better than I have ever had. 

It can happen for you, too.

*         If you need help stopping your pain medications, please visit DrugRehabCenters.org.

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