This is probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Sure, I have, at various times in my life, stopped drinking; stopped smoking; recovered from I swear 43 different car accidents; carried three children to full+ term through two separate pregnancies (you do the math!); given birth to 3 separate children; stopped having relatively anonymous sex for the kick of it; stopped bingeing on everything loosely referred to as food that I could possibly put in my mouth (except mushrooms. But really, who binges on mushrooms anyway?? Well, unless they’re those kind, which was never something on my personal radar); moved with a husband, 2 infants and a young toddler half-way round the world; moved, not 1/2 a year later, back home from halfway across the world with the two infants and toddler, but sans husband; retained a mostly amicable relationship with my ex-husband and his new wife; kept someone incredibly dear to me afloat when he was suicidal after his wife left him (OK, there’s no way I can take full credit for that one, but there’s a weird twisty place inside that feels proud that of everyone he could have called at that crucial moment, he called me); been a marriage counselor, confidant, and best friend when I should have been a child of nine (or ten, or eleven, or any number you pick until I was announcing my own engagement); broken in half when I had shut off to my brother, the drug addict – tough love and all that; and spent more hours than I can possibly count in therapy for…let’s face it…any of the above reasons.
And of all those list of things, which is by no means a complete list of personal whining, this thing is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life. Ever.
I have 6 bulging discs in my spine. Now, I am nowhere near arrogant enough to think that I have it worse than anybody else, ever. Definitely not true. I do, however, have it worse than I have ever had it before. What used to be routine things to do: bending down to kiss my child, to pick up a stray toy off the floor, to load the dishwasher, to do my children’s laundry…no more. Sure, on a good day I can do any one of those things once, maybe even twice. But the tradeoff may be that I spend the next 3 days on a heating pad unable to get out of either my bed or my chair (which is sometimes the ONLY place I can get even remotely comfortable.) With the exception of one emergency room visit with my daughter who was doubled over in pain and unable to walk, I have not lifted up a single one of my kids in 2 years. By the time I might be able to again, they will have far outgrown the possibility.
A year ago, approximately 1 year after injuring my back, my back pain worsened considerably. That was the beginning of Oxycontin. Well, to be fair, it started out as Percocet, moved swiftly to Oxycodone (short acting), and ended at Oxycontin (long acting.) Over the year, my dosage went predictably up, up, and away. Now, understand, I did not take this medication in a careless or unthoughtful way. I was hyper aware of the risks – my brother had been a heroin addict after all, a close relative of Oxy. I took my meds as prescribed. And thank God, I escaped becoming an addict. I did, however, become extremely physically dependent upon the drug, and would go into the beginnings of withdrawal at some point in the day, pretty much daily. I didn’t understand that the brutal hot flashes I had several times throughout the day were the first signs of withdrawal. Nor did I realize that the rash on my hip – itchy as hell – that just would not go away…probably also drug-related. I had my suspicions about all of it, but my back just hurt too fucking much to consider not taking the meds.
However, 6 months in, I started to regret it. Let’s face it: I was stoned. All. The. Time. And I hated it. I can honestly say that I hated the “whoomp” when it would really hit my system. I hated being so out of control. (Hmm, does someone have some control issues, per chance?) But seriously. My life became a revolving cycle of sleep, pain meds, sleep, TV shows (Lord knows I was way too out of it to A. follow, or B. stay awake long enough to read a book), sleep, movies, sleep, falling asleep in the middle of conversations, sleep…you get the picture. Did you read anywhere in there, “spend quality time with my children?” Neither did I.
Eventually the fact that I was incapable of really being “present” with my children got to me. I started probing my doctors more specifically about the long-term picture. Their response? I was medically in between a rock and a hard place. I wasn’t good enough to “just live with it”, and I wasn’t bad enough for surgery (that would require full out disc herniation, which my children are still vocal about hoping I will deteriorate into, just so that something can be done!) That left me with a prognosis of long-term pain management. However, that just simply didn’t work for me. I continued pressing my doctors at each appointment until I finally went in to my rehab specialist’s office and said, “That’s it. No more. I’m not doing this anymore. I want off the narcotics. My brother was a heroin addict, and I have my own addiction issues. And most importantly, these meds are keeping me from being able to be present with my kids, and that’s time that I will never get back. So what are we going to do about it?” His response? “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”
What the hell?
I had been saying it for 6 months. I guess I wasn’t quite as much of a bitch about it, but I had been saying it just the same. But no one had been hearing me. And that was an enormous wake up call about our medical system. Don’t get me wrong, in every other respect, this particular doctor has been great. He has made time specifically to just sit down with me – for as long as it took, I might add – and listen to my story, so that we could navigate our way through this. He has been an excellent doctor, and I have never once – other than the minor incident of pain management planning – been less than enthusiastic about working with him.
But, come on. This was interpreted as the first mention I had made of wanting to get off the multitude of crap that I was putting into my system?!?! Hello!!! Do I need to tap dance naked on your desk to get your attention? (Well, currently that would probably negate the need for me to get that particular brand of attention – if I could tap dance naked on anyone’s desk right now, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But I digress.) Our medical system is really not set up well to heal. It is set up very well to medicate and alleviate symptoms. But neither of those things gets to the root of the problem. And that is a problem of gross proportions.