The pain of painkillers

The strongest painkiller I will take these days is Aleve. But yesterday even that wasn’t working. I actually decided I would take something stronger, but after holding the pill (Dilaudid) in my hand for 10 minutes I just could not do it. I felt like taking it would be admitting defeat even though logically that doesn’t make sense.

Supermoms are not supposed to need narcotics to help ease their pain. We are not supposed to have any pain that can’t be cured with a hot bath and a cup of tea. Life kind of gets in the way of that sometimes.

I didn’t used to be opposed to pain pills. Quite the opposite. Now I know you are thinking addiction, but I had this whole speech about addicts needing the meds for the high, and people who are in pain need the meds to cure the pain therefore it’s not an addiction. I have reached the point that I believe perhaps I was wrong in some ways.

Here’s the back story. 8 years ago, almost to the day, I was 2 months pregnant with my littlest prince. From one second to the next I went from just mildly nauseous and bloated to the most unbelievable agony I have ever experienced. My back went out. Totally and utterly. Rushed to hospital, on morphine while pregnant, tests upon tests upon tests. I was discharged a few weeks later, on bedrest the rest of the pregnancy (so tough with 3 little kids underfoot) with no answers. I spent the next few years in abject agony with my back, going from doctor to doctor, getting diagnoses that didn’t help – fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, herniated disks, disk degenerative disease, one doc told me to just go to the gym and make friends and I will feel better. I did acupuncture and went to an osteopath. Nothing helped. NSAIDs and cortisone shots helped for a bit, but not long term. I was in pain and miserable and no one was willing to help me.

Until I found the right kind of pain specialist, one who looked at the whole ME and not just my back. After trial and error we hit upon a strategy that gave me my life back. I was put on Oxycontin, a strong narcotic. I had to take a dose every 12 hours in order to keep the pain at bay. It was tightly controlled by the doctor, and I was closely monitored. But I was able to function without chronic pain being my first thought of the day, and my last thought at night. I was able to be a mom for the first time in a long time. Yes I still had limitations, I wasn’t pain-free. My pain went from a 10 on 10 to perhaps a 5. And I could live with that. I had break-through pain, and I had pills for that too.

While still in pain and on medication, divorce proceedings were started. As most people who have been though all of that, you know that stress exacerbates all your aches and pains and sometimes brings you new ones. Even though for some time I had wanted to get off the oxy, that wasn’t the time. I hated being dependant on a medication like that. my life wasn’t in danger, I was just in pain. I didn’t need to take this medication to live, or did I? After taking it for so long I was no longer sure why I was taking it. Did it improve my quality of life, or was I too reliant on it?

A defining moment came, when I mistakenly took too much. I had all my pills in a pill organizer and that morning I took the pills from the wrong day. Later, thinking I had forgotten to take my pills that morning, I took more. Within an hour I realized my mistake. I called the doc and she said not to panic, that I would be fine, high, but fine. The pills would work their way out of my system and I would be back to “normal”. I called a friend to come take care of the kids because I knew I could not. And boy was I high! I had never gotten high in my life before that and never will again. It scared me. I was floating, and rabbitting on about insane things, making weird comments, and I was not in control! I hate not being in control.

It was after that that I decided that I had to get off the painkillers. I made a decision to accept whatever pain I was in, take advil or aleve, and get through every day as best I could.

I went to my doctor, explained to her that I wanted to stop taking the meds NOW. She explained to me that if I just stopped cold turkey I would go through withdrawal. I said that that was just for addicts, and I was not an addict. Even though I was taking it for medical purposes, not recreational, my body was used to having it in the bloodstream. So to just stop would send the body into withdrawal no matter why I was taking it. So over a period of months we slowly weaned me off the oxy. I had wanted an immediate withdrawal, but that wasn’t possible. It also meant learning new ways to deal with the pain from what was determined to be 2 herniated disks and sciatica.

It took 3 months of slow weaning, but I did it. I was narcotic free after almost 3 years of being a slave to a drug that helped me have a better life. Do I miss it? Heck no! Does my back hurt still. It does indeed, but my attitude has changed. I live with chronic pain. It’s a fact of my life. It does not define who I am. I will not allow it to interfere with how I live my life. Not now, not ever.

I was still left with Oxycodone (generic name is Supeudol), a short acting narcotic, for when the pain gets really bad. I used to take a whole one of 5 mg. Recently my back was especially awful and I took a quarter of a pill and I will never take it again. Just that tiny little piece played with my head. My body has gotten so used to being without narcotics that even the smallest dose makes me feel weird.

So yesterday, when my pain was really bothering me and Aleve didn’t do much, I wanted to take something stronger. I had told myself that taking one pill won’t ruin months of hard work but I still felt that it would be wrong for me. So I resisted. I took a hot bath instead and went to bed with a book and relaxed.

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15 responses to “The pain of painkillers

  1. Pain is the worst. I cannot take vicodin or the like. I do have some tylenol w/ codeine for emergencies (because as I told you, a kidney stone IS an emergency) but generally it’s just me and the tylenol 🙂

  2. good post. Most people don’t realize that oxycontin is very similar to heroin, but in synthetic pill form- the high is supposed to be very similar, and a lot of former heroin users have switched over to oxy because it is easier to get. Pain pills are one of the fastest growing drug addictions in the US- I think I read something saying more people now die from pain pill overdoses then from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.

  3. as a pharmacist i see a lot of narcotic prescriptions. i refuse to fill a lot of them.

  4. Hadassah,

    This is a great post and a brave one too.

    I also got narcotic pain killers after a lung tumor surgery a few years ago but they didn’t make my high at all. Too bad, I don’t remember which brand it was.

    I remember being scared of putting too much of that stuff into my system (I was also 2 months postpartum and planned going back to nursing right after coming back from the hospital).

    Refuah shlema

    • thanks….i had to stop nursing my little one to take a drug. i have always regretted that – the drug didnt help at all.

  5. It’s terrible to be in so much pain, and to just want it to go away, no matter what it takes. It’s great that you were able to get off of the oxycontin, and to resist taking the dilaudid. Stay strong!

  6. I am sorry that you have to suffer with back pain. Many people do and they get so use to the drugs that they lose their effect. In the US, many people Dr. jump just for the drugs and there is not a central registry to see how many times one person gets a perscription for a certain drug. I think there are many more irresponsible legal pill takers not and there are also many Doctors who find it easier to give a drug rather than go further with finding the answer to the pain. Keep on fighting the pain until they come up with something other than drugs.

    • i didnt want to be one of those people. i am fortunate that i have been able to live my life without the need for the strong stuff.

  7. OK, I’m going to come out on the other side of the argument.

    It is not good to be in pain. Pain saps our energy and affects other areas of our life. If we are in pain, we will have less energy (and patience) for our loved ones (and others).

    I agree, that the least amount of pain medication is ideal. But not if it means suffering. We don’t get extra points in heaven for suffering.

    Finding the right drug combo is important.

    When the docs prescribed percocet, I bucked. I did not want narcotics. So I take a combination of Optalgin (not sold in the US) and Algolycin (which I thought of as “watered down percocet,” but which my doctor described as “souped up aspirin.”). I keep a packet of percocet, for when the pain is too much. And then I only take half a pill.

    But I know that a time might come when I will need stronger pain meds. And when that time comes, I hope I have the fortitude to take what I need so that I can function and be there for my family.

    • RivkA – if there was a time that my pain got steadily worse and was affecting my quality of life the way it did at the beginning, i would definitely have to revisit the issue. it is very easy for me to say i will never take narcotics again, but none of us know what the future holds for us.

      i pray that you are pain free very soon, my friend, and that you have a Refuah Shelayma Bimheira.

  8. Hi Hadassah,
    I’m sorry you are in pain and hope you feel all better very soon. Have you ever looked into a mind/body approach like Dr. Sarno’s method or Feldenkrais?
    Good luck!

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