When Painkillers Become A Way of Life
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Neurosurgeon, Stephen Neece
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.
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