In light of this 2016 “Pain Awareness Month” and with what happened so recently to my friend, fellow pain warrior and fellow U.S. Pain Foundation Ambassador; I feel the urge to tell a story. It’s actually two stories, hers & mine, but they are within the same idea and fit in this article.
So our own dear Emily was out of town doing some advocacy work and ran out of her pain medication! She takes a synthetic opioid “Tramadol”. Her Dr nor pharmacy would help her as she was miles away in so much pain that she could not drive! She tried to call in and ask if she could just “get a few meds to get her through until she returned home”. Again, the answer was “No”! She was crying and almost hysterical calling around to different places, asking for help. She knows, she said “what she must’ve sounded like” to those on the other end of the telephone! But just like me, Emily never wanted these medications! Like me, she was reluctant to start them because she never wanted to be dependent on the meds! I went through that same dilemma for 3 years, until the PMD had his pain Psychologist, talk me into it and told me “not to ever be afraid” and to “trust them”! They even tested my psychological profile, which proved that “I don’t have an addictive personality “!
I have been through this similar situation once on a trip and then again at the end of my journey with one type of pain medication.
My family and I were returning home from AZ during our February break vacation. It was about 2009 & many planes were not leaving on time or at all! I had my wheelchair, which had already been boarded onto the airplane. I was prescribed Fentanyl “lollipops” for breakthrough pain and only brought enough for the trip. Suddenly on a loud speaker, it was announced that our plane could be delayed until Wednesday or Thursday! This was Sunday at noon! Let alone the fact that my husband is a teacher and had to return to work that next day, Monday! I was frantic, afraid, hysterical and worried all in one big thought pattern!! My wheelchair was already gone onto the plane and I could be in pain for those next 3 or 4 days! I’d already lived through a heart attack and a stroke /CVA ! I would go through withdrawals! I’d feel horribly ill and possibly suffer seizures or subsequent stroke!!??? I was so afraid and finally relieved when at the last minute they told us to board the plane quickly “because the pilot & staff had to be up in the air within 10 minutes or they’d be grounded due to too many logged working hours”!! We made it home without a trauma, but I knew in my heart that I absolutely despised being “married” to these medications!!
I relented and started taking the Opioids after 3 yrs of epidural, injections, PT/OT (for 8 yrs total), biofeedback & more! I was convinced to take them and told “not to fear”!
In 2014, I got a letter from our medical insurance company, stating that I “had to have a pain management physician agree with my General physicians treatment plan” or they’d stop paying for my medications altogether! The very next day I had an appointment with my GP. (*side note: after 3 + years of the misc treatments , including pain meds, my pain managemnt Dr. told me that due to my Combined immune deficiency disease, I was no longer a candidate for the Spinal Cord Stimulator or the Intrathecal Pain pump! He told me that he was “looked at under a microscope by the Federal govt.. Therefore he was “passing me over to my GP” for medications only. He said he’d consult whenever needed for ideas etc.)
I went to my scheduled appointment with my GP of 13 -14 years, the next day. I spent the entire appointment crying, while the Dr. I’d entrusted with my medical care for all of those years, blankly stared at me! He only muttered the words “I’m leaving, today’s my last day. I want to spend more time with my kids so I’m going to work at an Urgent care!” First of all, that was very “fishy” from the start! When he became a Dr., married and later had 2 kids; he knew what he’d signed up for!
I left and had to pay a $30 co-pay to cry for 40 minutes! Most of that time was with the M.A. Consoling me as she reaffirmed that “nothing would change”! That Dr., his nurse & his MA, told me that “the other Dr. in that practice would take over my care & nothing would change”! My ex-Dr also told me that he’d “personally speak to my old pain Dr. & get him to sign the papers for the insurance co. Not to fear”! Secondly, he said that he’d forward my treatment plan and records to that PMD, and all would be fine, and everything would stay the same!
A few weeks later, I went to see my old pain Dr and he told me that he knew that “my pain was real and that I have multiple real and high pain issues”! But that I was to go to a “treatment center “! Then afterwards I could possibly see him again. But only after I went to his “friend”! He next explained to my husband and me, that “it wasn’t me; but he wanted no part of that other Dr.’s mess!”(my old GP). He explained that my old GP had been investigated by the Feds and had to go work at an Urgent care because he was fired from that practice & unable to write “for pain meds”any longer! I was in tears crying and begging him to take me back! I cried and through my tears, I explained that “I had never even smoked cigarettes, did never do any kind of drugs and had not drank alcohol!” I promised him that “I was strong & I could get down off of the Fentanyl lollipops all by myself, with my husbands love and support! I made an appointment with him for 2-3 weeks later and I promised him that I’d wean down by myself. He allowed me to make the appointment!
I returned to that PMD’s office 2-3 weeks later and down off of the Fentanyl lollipops by about 70%! He had a young 17 yr. old office girl come to tell me that “he still won’t see me unless or until I see his friend, the addiction specialist” (I researched & later found out this info.)! I cried and begged for help and I was afraid!
I visited at least 5 Pain Management physicians! All of them looked at me like either I was a “Lepar” or my case was too difficult and they did not want to bother ! Time was drawing near when I’d be totally out of those lollipops for good. Finally, the partner, actually the owner of the GP’s practice,(who’s known me and my family since the 1980’s), told me that I’d proven to him that I could go down on my own and he’d “take me on only if I was 100% off of the lollipops AND the oral meds &/or patches that I’d been prescribed”! I promised that I could do it. I was terrified because no one had my best interest in their heart or mind! I had no way for future pain relief and the nation was going berserk over pain management Opioids!
What happened to this nation? Why am I suddenly categorized and scrutinized? Some movie stars and magazine reporters family members had died from over dosages; therefore now I’m an “addict”!?? There’s a big difference people!!! There’s a huge personality profile difference between an addict and someone who is dependent on Opioids for several nerve pain diseases and high pain diagnosed illnesses! An “addict” craves their “fix”! They live to take medications, whereas, I take my medications to live! The addict gets a “high” from the Narcotics or Opioids. I wouldn’t take them if they did not relieve my high amount of nerve pain due to RSD/CRPS and other pain illnesses from A to Z!
I did finally find a good, kind and respectful Pain management physician. He did tell me that I had to discontinue the Fentanyl lollipops if I wanted him to be my Dr. He told me to take my last one on the eve of July 12, 2015. He gave me different Opioids and he was pleased that I’d gone down by myself, to 1/2 of the amount of Fentanyl patch than what Id been on under that first GP’s care.
I took my last Fentanyl lollipop on July 12, 2015. I had to go through withdrawals even though I’d decreased the lollipops by 90%! It was a horrible, awful and painful experience that I’d never wish on my worst enemy! I needed something for my blood pressure spikes! The nausea and vomiting too! I needed meds for calming me and I just needed time to get off of them 100%! I was in pain and miserable for a good 3 weeks, then down just a notch for 3 more. It’s was scary for my husband and a nightmare for me. I thank God that I’m a very strong willed person. I did it and I came out the other side! I NEVER want to go through that again!
I never want to be dismissed and sent to an opioid treatment center because….. I did it myself! I certainly didn’t want that following me around in my medical records for the rest of my life; when I never have never been and never will be an addict!! Yes, I’m still taking an oral Opioid and 1/2 of the amount of Fentanyl patch that Id been on under that GP’s care!
I thought he cared about me as a long term patient! I thought he was kind and that he was the best Dr ever, because he “listened” to me! Well, do you know what? That’s all he did! He listened to me & then he wrote prescriptions and stared off into space with a kind look now & again. He never tried to help me by physically “doing” something for me–except lifting a pen! He knew how much medication I was on! He knew it was a dangerously high amount of Opiods for someone like me; No…for anyone!! He was not doing me any favors and he was digging me an early grave! He didn’t care at all for my husband, daughters & granddaughters; my family or my life.
What happened when my ex-GP got in trouble and left, was a blessing in disguise. Yes, I had to go through a lot to get where I am today! I’m thankful that I have God in my life and that I’m a strong person. I thank God that I had my husband there by my side to help me through it all! I also thank God that I am here today and that I can tell my story. I only pray that my writing & my story will help someone else in the future.
It’s because of Doctors like my ex- GP, Dr Bullach, who didn’t truly care about curing or attempting to fix medical problems and/or pain; but who only wrote prescriptions. Also then due to the actions of some celebrities like Prince, Michael Jackson and the others that abused medicines for pain; that we are in this situation today. Also the “regular non celebrity people” that abuse, modify & sell these opiods. It is all of them who’ve ruined it for all of us. We are the faces of the people who are dedicated to getting well and trying to live some semblance of a life. All the while we are also struggling with the management of our high pain illnesses. We fight against labels and against those physicians involved in the group called “PROP (Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing)”, and others in the medical profession who give us these labels!
Lastly, I need to say one more thing while Im on my “soapbox”. If someone who you loved died from an overdose, I send you my most sincere condolences. But because of your anger, loss and fear; please don’t take it out on the people who are diligent in taking these medications responsibly?! Please don’t pull the rug out from under my life, our lives because you are mourning. Maybe you feel that you must right a wrong! Please everyone, do not put all of us into the same category as those who abuse illegal substances! Most importantly, if you are in a position of being a reporter or news writer or Television newscaster, please don’t abuse your privileges by using your job as a stage for fighting against your own personal demons!
-References: Emily’s story from U.S. Pain Foundation website at: USPainFoundation.org (originally from Rep-ap.com article: “Side effect of drug fight means some are left to suffer”)
-Feature photo is originally from: USPainFoundation.org