I'm hesitant to write along these lines this week, but feel that many of my readers will relate. I like to write motivational, inspirational, and sometimes humorous or challenging columns that have a message or make us want to be a better person. Probably too often I pontificate while pointing out injustices or rude social behavior, but not this week.
A couple days ago, I drove my 85 year old mother to see her pain doctor. She has to go each month and sit anywhere from 1 to 3 hours in the waiting room to prove she is not abusing her pain drug, which now thanks to recent regulation changes, hydrocodone is being phased out. This highly effective drug has been the only reason she has lived a semi-normal life and she takes it on schedule.
What she gets now is a form of morphine that doesn't address her numerous joint pains, which she itemized with a chuckle. "My shoulder, neck, back, wrist... even my big toe!" Her doctor earlier had explained to her that she was concerned my mother would become dependent on the hydrocodone. My mother, who is in full control of her mental faculties looked at the doctor like they were out of touch with reality.
As she explained to me in my car, "I am 85 years old and I cannot live with pain. I am fully dependent on that medication to relieve it, regardless if the drug is addictive or not." It didn't matter to the doctor and my mother also had this little gem of inside information. "If they were in pain, they would understand."
This conversation took place last month when we went through three days of her running out of hydrocodone because none of the local pharmacies carried the new pain killer. It got very close to a panic situation for her. At the time she was explaining the issue of pain and meds, I was pain free and have been for years, but what she said sounded logical, although I couldn't really relate. People complaining about health issues falls on deaf ears to the healthy.
Sadly, I was soon to be educated why people choose to end their life rather than live in constant pain.
On March 21st, I awoke with a stiff neck. I drove to the NASA gym to instruct a spin class at 0830 and by the time I left, my right shoulder was numb and I couldn't turn my head. By noon, I was climbing the walls. I have never felt pain that intense and it was one solid long line of agony. No matter what I did or what position I was in, nothing relieved it.
I doubled up on ALEVE and 2 days later I was at the VA emergency room. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't think of anything else except the non-stop pain in my shoulder and bicep and at first I thought I was having a stroke, but ruled that out for a pinched or impinged nerve.
They set me up for an MRI in 5 days and gave me a small prescription for a weaker pain med named Tramadol. I took one every 6 hours as directed and ran out Sunday morning, 3 days later. This was 2 days before my appointment. I am convinced the doctor didn't really bother to calculate how many tablets I needed because he couldn't relate. People living in pain are very aware of how many pills they have. The pain came back with a vengeance and by noon on Sunday I drove the 30 miles to the VA and went back into the emergency room.
Through a miracle, I got an MRI within an hour and a sympathetic doctor who prescribed my 5 meds. He asked me what the level of my pain was and I told him it was the one right below crying.
To make a long story short, I have about 8 inches of vertebra that over the years have sustained enough injury that now through a shrinking of the nerve channel it is impinged. My arm is numb to my finger tips and I've had to curtail not only my spin classes, but all gym time until we can resolve the issue. Being the competitive individual that I am, this is very difficult for me, but the possibility that the pain will magnify past the place where it can be controlled is so scary that I just backed off.
This brings up another subject of medicinal marijuana for pain management. It has been found so effective, for so many people, only those who cannot relate to pain would object to legalizing it. When a person would take a bullet to the head to stop the pain, what in god's name would be wrong with using something that works?
I am one month into this and still numb to my fingertips on my right hand and close to starting a second 16 day blitz of Prednisone, where it feels like I am on fire internally. I have a pain consultation on the 27th to determine a course and it appears it will be acupuncture. I still remain hopeful about instructing spin class, but as I approach age 65 in June, I simply have to realize I am no longer the young buck that still lives inside of me.