When Painkillers Become A Way of Life

Oxycodone Prescription Bottles
Oxycodone Prescription Bottles

Team Lift

The sales team and management promised the customer that their new computer equipment would be up and running by Christmas, only days away. Two technicians were assigned to install the equipment that included racks of heavy servers and processors. One of the workers shared the story about how he injured his back that day.

"What started out as an ordinary day at work turned into a day I would never forget. Standing in the frigid air of the customer's computer room, I waited as long as I could to start wiring the servers. The other technician was assigned to stack and rack the rows of equipment. The last day of the installation, other guy didn't show up on site after coming down with a bad case of the flu."

"I had no choice but to tackle the two-man job of lifting the equipment by myself. This turned out to be a huge mistake and something I wish I had never done, a decision that affected the quality of my life going forward."

Herniated Disc

Herniated Disc
Herniated Disc

The Injury

The worker hoped the pain he was experiencing was only temporary. He suffered through the holidays trying over-the-counter medications which proved to be ineffective against the pain. After New Year's, he went to the doctor's office where they opened a worker's compensation injury claim.

Physical therapy proved to be of no use, and after nearly a year of red tape during which "less invasive procedures" were administered, a discectomy was finally authorized. One week before surgery, the company had a massive lay off of hundreds of workers. He was among them."

The worker continued telling his story. "After the minimally invasive back surgery, a discectomy, was performed, my pain was manageable only if I limited activities like walking and didn't lift anything heavy. Over time, the back pain increased with such magnitude I went back to the doctor. This time the medications failed to reduce the agony of three herniated disks."

The patient was diagnosed with failed back surgery. The cushioning effect of the discs no longer existed, and as the bones began to wear against each another, the result was grinding and consistent pain. He was told that the only solution that would remedy the root cause was spinal fusion surgery.

But despite the evidence shown by the MRI and multiple X-rays, the insurance company refused to approve the recommended surgery on three lumbar vertebrae: L3, L4 and L5. Instead, he was prescribed stronger pain killers and more physical therapy exercises that were too painful to perform.

"Discectomy is surgery to remove herniated disc material that is pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord.

— Web MD

Doctor's Office

Another visit to the Pain Management Specialist
Another visit to the Pain Management Specialist | Source

Stronger Medication Added

After two long, painful years of appeals to the Texas Worker's Commission, wading his way through the required paperwork, the worker lost his case against the insurance company representing Worker's Compensation. They refused to approve the surgical procedure prescribed by an orthopedic doctor.

During those two years of waiting, the patient developed an increasing tolerance to the effectiveness of the medication he took daily. With no other medical solution, the Pain Management Specialist steadily increased the doses and types of pain killers prescribed to keep the patient mobile and able to hold down a job.

Hydrocodone may cause drowsiness.
Hydrocodone may cause drowsiness.

As the pain relieving effects wore off each drug, the doctor added more pain medication. Eventually, the patient was taking a combination of Hydrocodone, Valium, Robaxin, Oxycodone (Percocet), Fentanyl patches. Soon, they added Hydromorphone, a powerful drug used to anesthetize patients during surgery; an opioid pain medication sometimes called a narcotic.


Lymphodema, or swelling of the extremities is sometimes caused by medications
Lymphodema, or swelling of the extremities is sometimes caused by medications | Source

The Effects of Medication

Before surgery was finally authorized, the injured worker's legs, ankles and feet swelled to double their normal size during which he continued to work a full time schedule. He considered himself lucky that his job could be done mostly telecommuting. At this point, wearing regular shoes was impossible due to swelling.

Soon, he became less mobile and experienced shooting pains down his legs, even when lying down. This prevented him from sleeping in a regular bed. He avoided the shooting pain by sleeping in a chair sitting upright.

Sitting upright in a chair was the only way to prevent shooting pains down his legs.
Sitting upright in a chair was the only way to prevent shooting pains down his legs.

Medication was prescribed to address the shooting pains in his legs and the swelling which was diagnosed as lymphodema due to minimal circulation from remaining upright twenty-fours a day. Soon more medications were added to the mix: pills to reduce swelling, to increase circulation, to relieve anxiety, to address the ongoing pain.

X-ray Post Surgery

Pedicle Screws and Rods fusing Lumbar level 3, L4, and L5 to S1
Pedicle Screws and Rods fusing Lumbar level 3, L4, and L5 to S1 | Source

Surgery Authorized

Finally, the day of surgery for spinal fusion arrived, thirteen years after the original injury. Three-level spinal fusion surgery was prescribed to relieve the nerve pain and to stop vertebrae from grinding against one another. A framework of Titanium rods, pedicles and screws were surgically implanted into the actual bones through a fourteen inch incision in the patient's lower spine, .

In the Intensive Care Unit

Post operative care in the ICU.
Post operative care in the ICU. | Source
Doctor's model of one level spinal fusion
Doctor's model of one level spinal fusion | Source

Neurosurgeon, Stephen Neece

He spent twelve hours on his feet performing surgery
He spent twelve hours on his feet performing surgery | Source

The Neurosurgeon confided that the Anesthesiologist was seriously concerned when the patient required four times the normal amount of anesthesia before surgery could begin. This was a result of resistance to the medications that had been taken for so long.

The rehabilitation process after surgery included a short term stay at a rehabilitation hospital. Every movement became an exercise in endurance and stamina. Under the strict supervision of nurses who rationed the drugs during rehab, it became painfully clear that the patient was hooked on painkillers.

The results of these medications included memory erosion, foggy thinking, shortened attention span and a volatile state of emotions whenever the next pill would come due. At that moment, a new journey began trying to break free from this dangerous and addictive medicine.

Rehabilitation Therapy

At the hospital after surgery, learning to walk again.
At the hospital after surgery, learning to walk again. | Source

The Patient's Struggle to Get Off the Meds

"This has been the most difficult struggle I've ever faced: the pain of the incision in my back held together with staples, the physical therapy to learn to stand and walk again, and even worse, aspirating the wound to relieve the post-surgical swelling. But none of this was as bad as the physical and psychological pain of withdrawal from narcotics.

Over the past year and a half, with perseverance and a lot of duress, I reduced the doses a little at a time and finally stopped taking the strongest medications. Reducing the dose and getting rid of the Fentanyl patch caused absurd episodes of anxiety, distress and sleeplessness."

Lumbar Spine Surgical Procedure


"For the first time in over two years, I've been without a patch for nearly two weeks. The episodes of anxiety attacks where I feel like crawling out of my skin have not stopped completely, but they are becoming less severe with each return incidence. I'm sleeping through most of the night and have returned to work, finally able to clearly concentrate on my technologically challenging job in the computer industry.

I look forward to the day when I'm completely free of these seriously addictive prescription drugs."

© 2013 Peg Cole

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Comments 54 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

A very important message. I have known quite a few people addicted to pain killers, and it is such an easy trap to fall into. Well done with this one, Peg.

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 3 years ago from Arizona

What a story..All those years of pain and struggling..so sorry you had to go through this. Here is to a bright and painfree future.

SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 3 years ago from eastern North Dakota

Wow, Peg, that was quite a story. I'm sorry it had to happen to you.

While listening to that video from the attorney about doctors and insurance companies, I couldn't help thinking about one of the biggies with Obamacare: The fact that insurance companies will no longer have the right to refuse people because of pre-existing conditions. Don't get me wrong. I have no love for insurance companies, but they will be "forced" to do this?

I feel sorry for anyone in the future who gets embroiled in this, this, this, and that, as you were.

Good to see you again, Peg, but I did miss your humor, and I like your new profile pic!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Billybuc, Thank you for being the first to drop by this one. Perhaps I need to add a note and clarify that I was not the injured party. I will pass along your kind remarks to him. Again, thank you so much.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Carol7777, Thank you for the kind and thoughtful remarks. Although I did sustain a back injury on the job long, long ago, this story is written on behalf of someone else who experienced this. Sorry for the confusion. I edited to include a note to clarify that. I will pass along your comments to J. I'm certain he will appreciate your upbeat message. Thanks again.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello James. Thanks so much for the "Wow" and for your comments. It is nice to see you again and thanks for liking the profile picture. That was a happy day. Sorry I couldn't inject any humor into this one. It weighs too heavy on my mind.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Incredible story of addiction and the road to recovery. Your writing is very engaging, and I followed the story from the first word to the very last. So interesting. Voted up and more. Sharing as well.

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 3 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Peg. J went through a terrible ordeal. I know that you also went through the ordeal with hi,. You both display so much courage and fortitude. It is criminal that you had to fight so hard and wait so long to get treatment.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Flourish, I really appreciate your comments and compliments on my writing style. Not many people read an entire article, particularly one this long.

There are so many injured workers out there who have these obstacles to face every day. We were seriously blessed with an incredible surgeon (We went with the second opinion guy) who took quick action once the insurance red tape was cleared.

Again, thank you for the visit and votes and sharing. Smiles.

marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Dear Peg,

You tell the story of J and so many others so eloquently and compassionately. Your role as loving caregiver cannot be underscored.

You have travelled this long journey together through the good and the bad...most inspirational and powerful to consider. This is a story that needed to be told and you did it well. Voted UP and UABI.

Love to you and J, Maria

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Mck. Many thanks to you and to our mutual friends who shared the details of the story as it unfolded. Your compassion and kind words helped through the toughest of times. I will never forget that. Thank you for stopping in today to read this and for the wonderful comment.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

My sweet Maria,

Your thoughtfulness and caring words are etched on my mind, not just from this release, but from all other hubs you patiently waded through concerning this ongoing saga. I put that video about the injured nurse in here with you in mind - as you are so often on my mind. Thanks, thanks, a thousand times thanks.

Love, Peg

hawaiianodysseus profile image

hawaiianodysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

Peg, you're certainly well on your way to becoming an investigative journalist. Have you thought about and/or attempted to query a health or regional periodical with this article? Well researched and written, my friend, and what a wonderful service you did for patient "J." Thanks for sharing!



PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, Joe. What a nice comment! Wow. No, not really. I just wrote this one this week. I appreciate your sweet, complimentary remarks and your visit. Hope you are doing much better yourself. Thinking of you and smiling.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean

Thank you, Peg, for reporting this story about addiction to pain killers. In J's case, he hardly had a choice about taking the pills. Wish there was a way to make a pain killer which was effective without being addictive.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Interesting and so very useful.

Thank you so much for sharing and voted up.


Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

There is, indeed, a very important message in your hub, Peg as many people get addicted to painkillers.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello MsDora, It does seem like there would be less dangerous alternatives to the narcotics that are prescribed. In J's case, these were prescribed at first with little results, leaving few alternatives other than the stronger medications. Through all the doctor visits and years of delays in getting the surgery, we were astounded by the number of people who are in this situation. It is truly a sobering discovery.

So nice of you to take time to read this and to leave such an insightful comment. Thank you.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Eddy,

I'm so glad you found this interesting and I appreciate your visit, votes and sharing this.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Mike Robbers, Thanks for finding a message here. I hope this is something you never experience first hand. Thanks so much for your visit.

elayne001 profile image

elayne001 3 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Good reporting PegCole17. It is difficult to understand another's difficulties until you go through such pain yourself. But, you did a good job of explaining the sad circumstances and helpless feelings he experienced.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, Elayne001, for your understanding and compassion along with the kind remarks in your comment. I also appreciate your visit and the compliments on this article. I tried to remain objective with the facts, although this was very close to home; in fact, J is my spouse.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Kudos to you, Peg, for this realistic recital of J's pain and tribulations. And congrats to J for his out-of-this-world endurance and recovery. Give him a hug for me. But carefully. Watch the back!

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Excellent, informative article. When I read articles like this I realize that my pain is not even a patch of what pain could be like. I am so glad that J has finally reached the end of his agony.

What a never-ending battle with medical insurance!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Drbj, As always, your humor injected comment has given me a huge grin. I'll give J a careful hug from you and thanks for the encouraging words. He will enjoy reading your comment.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Martie, Your pain is never small when it is yours to endure. I'm certain that you have experienced much of the same duress with what you are going through. My heart goes out to you and my hopes for a speedy recovery and return to activity for you.

J remains grateful for the vast improvement and reduction of pain he is living these months after surgery and is taking the process described here one day at a time. All my best to you and your Mr. B.

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Beautiful work on this Peg. I am so happy that he is getting off of the painkillers. It is a hard thing to do. Give him a gentle hug and our prayers for getting the rest of the way off.

I worried about my son when he broke his legs and wondered if he was going to get hooked. The Dr. reassured me and told me that we needed to give him less pain to deal with so he could heal and we would worry about that part later. Luckily, he did not get hooked and was off of them even sooner than the Dr. thought he would be. We were blessed on that.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is an excellent hub, Peg. What a horrible and long-lasting situation for J. His pain and the way he was treated by various organizations sound awful. I'm so glad that your story ended on a hopeful note, though. It sounds like there is finally light at the end of the tunnel, as the saying goes.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Becky, Me too. It has been really difficult for him. And the doctors told him the same thing they told your son, "We'll worry about that later." Well, later is here and let the worrying begin. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, your prayers and for the gentle hug.

Your compliment on the hub was really appreciated, too. See you soon.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

AliciaC, Goodness! That is a really nice comment and I do appreciate your stopping in to read this. Yes, we remain hopeful and as the saying goes, hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train coming. Not really. Just kidding. We are grateful that he is better and feel certain that this too, shall pass.

Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 3 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

J has been through so much over a long period of time, It takes a lot of courage and strength to get through something like this and you both now deserve some relief from the trauma. It is so easy to get hooked on a neccessary medication, I have seen it before and it is hard to get rid the addiction that was supposed to relieve pain.

After 13 long years you can both start looking at a brighter more peaceful future.

All the best to J. Enjoy your weekend together.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

man im sorry you had expereienced this ... made for a great hub though..bless you

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Frank. Nice of you to stop in and read this. Thanks for the kind words. Boomerang on the blessings, right back to you. There's plenty to share.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Rosemay, It's so good to see you and I like your new profile picture. Thank you so much for the thoughtful words on J's behalf. I hope your experience with it was not from a personal perspective. My heart goes out to those in this situation.

We're hopeful every day that things will improve and looking forward to a much brighter future.

Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 3 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

Thankfully peg the only drug I take is the occasional one for a headache, I realise just how lucky I am compared to other people who need to take constant pain killers, they are cought between the devil and the deep blue sea. Sad situation

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

I'm the same way Rosemay. It has to be pretty painful for me to want to take meds. Recently I had an MRI and found out I've got a torn rotator cuff in my shoulder. They sent out a prescription cream to rub on the area but I won't even use that since it has Gabapentin (?) and I believe that is what made J's feet swell up. Tylenol works and so does Aleve so that's enough for me.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

You have my sympathy and my admiration. I have in the past, and do now suffer from some of these issues (primarily the edema like you describe and frequent pain, but only OTC pain meds), though not as a result of back problems. I do have 3 crushed discs that give me trouble sometimes, but they are the least of my health issues so far. They do make doing certain things difficult, but so far the solution of not doing those things for long, or at all works pretty well.

It's so good of you to share this experience. People fortunate enough to find this article on Google or wherever, may be helped either to avoid situations like yours, or by knowing that you were able to overcome, and so they may be able to also.

I expect you went ahead and tried to do the work your company wanted and expected you to do in order to keep them happy and to continue to rank high as a valued employee, but in the end you got a worse situation to deal with than if you would have just said no in the first place. Of course you didn't know the difficulties your decision would make, you were just trying to be a good employee and do what you thought was the right thing.

I'm glad you've shared your experience because it will hopefully give other people the confidence to say no when no is the best solution. Let employers know that you're happy to do all you can, but with some things you need a little help. Would being fired or demoted have been worse than what you have gone through if that had been the result of you saying you could not meet their requirements without help?

Being fired can be very painful and difficult to overcome, but major long term health issues would seem to me to be worse.

Voted this hub up and useful, interesting, and awesome. Thank you for having the courage to share this difficult challenge.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thanks, Au fait, for sharing your take on J's situation. The point that you have so astutely observed is that one moment of displaced loyalty can affect the rest of your life. What loyalty did the company show to J? None. In fact, once he was injured, they laid him off, washed their hands and moved on, turning over the responsibility to their insurance company whose prime loyalty is to the bottom line.

J takes full responsibility for making the decision to try and fulfil the objectives of his company and now pays the consequences.

I'm so glad that you're able to manage (to your best ability) on OTC medications. That is great.

Again, thank you for the insightful comment and for sharing your challenges and solutions.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

I'm sorry, I thought this was a situation you had been burdened with for a long time. I'm glad that J is getting a handle on this too, and yes, I immediately realized that it was J who was trying to be the best employee he could be and doing his best to do what his employer had no right to ask him to do. I really hope your readers will see the importance of standing up for themselves in situations like this. Sometimes a person can be out of a job either way, and to my thinking it's better to be healthy while one is out of a job. I still believe this is a fantastic hub with good information for thought and I hope everyone will read it and take it to heart.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Dear Au fait, There is no need to apologize. Whether it was me or anyone else, it is important for folks to know that one moment and one decision can literally change your life. J has been dealing with this for over a dozen years. It has impacted our lives in a major way.

You are right that employers ask us to do the impossible at times and it is up to us to say NO.

Thanks again for stopping in, for reading and for leaving such a heartfelt comment. You are cool.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

I don't know if this would help, but have you ever tried acupuncture? I have back issuse occassionally and acupuncture worked wonders for me, coupled with glucosamine. I hope you feel better every day!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Epbooks. Did you mean for the back pain or for the withdrawal associated with taking fewer narcotics? I wasn't aware that acupuncture would help with withdrawal. Surgery has alleviated about 85 percent of the pain associated with the degenerative discs rubbing together, but has done nothing to relieve the neuropathy. I'll look into it, however, J has an intense aversion to needles of any kind and it took a lot to get him to try the epidural steroid injections which only worked for a couple of months and provided minimal relief.

Thanks for the suggestion and for your well wishes. I'll pass them along to J.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

I think for both. I used it for my back, but I have heard that acupuncture can be used for so many different things. It might be worth looking into as an alternative. :)

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

If only they could do it without the needles. hehe

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

What a horrible ordeal for so many years. Congratulations on how far you have come and how well you have done.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you Deb, for the kind sentiments and compassion. J is still in the clutches of this, but he's hoping there are brighter days ahead. At this very moment he just came in from his telecommute office in the garage and is dozing off in his chair. Last night was a rough one for him. Soon, perhaps, a brighter outlook. Thanks again.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Very nicely done article. I have had two friends be in good recovery from alcoholism only to fall victim to the pain med problem. Both need spinal fusion also. Both died early due to liver issues -- not from the alcoholism but the pain meds, after they had already hurt their livers. I have learned to spot over users of these meds. And make some extra allowances to help them remember and stay on track.

I would bet this helps a few people. So thank you much

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you Ericdierker. Liver damage? That is interesting and maybe something J needs to have checked. His ongoing fatigue and anxiety attacks are troublesome, that coupled with the anemia. He has been under the supervision of a Pain Medication Specialist for the past three years for proper dosage and reduction of use but it is a source of continuous concern.

I'm so sorry to hear about your friends. My heartfelt condolences to you and their families.

Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Hi Peg;

I’m sorry to hear that his happened to you. My sister became addicted to pain killers for a brief period; it is much easier to do than people realize. These pills frighten me because of the way doctors sometimes prescribe them in such a cavalier fashion. Hugs and thank you for sharing your story with us. Excellent hub filled with important and helpful information for us all. :-)

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Genna. Sorry to hear about your sister. I hope things are straightened out for her now. Getting off the medications is a lot harder than getting on them, that is for sure. You are so right about the cavalier fashion in which doctors prescribe a pill rather than take time to evaluate the root cause of the problem. Thanks for the hugs and thoughtful comment.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

Peg this is an outstanding piece. Give thanks to J for allowing this to be published with his details not to mention the wonderful pictures.

Many people NEED to read this as they don't realize their prescription drugs are addictive. I know it is reported and talked about but it is one of those things that happens "to the other guy". This masterful piece shows it's not always the other guy!

I know we're going to see your name in print yet! One book, article, or another!

Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Tillsontitan, Mary, your encouragement is always such a lift for me. You are like the proverbial "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with your heartfelt comments and kind words. Thank you for the high praise and "outstanding" and "masterful" adjectives along with the votes and sharing.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

This is an excellent article with a message that needs to spread far and wide. Voted up, shared and pinned.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Ologsinquito. Thanks for stopping in to read this article and for the kind words, votes, shares and pin. Much appreciated. Kind regards.

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