To Med or Not To Med

Last evening, while driving to my friend’s house, I was yet again yanked into the crazy-making realm of pain with a bullet-like zing tearing through me. It lasted only a few seconds, but the after-effects rippled through me for awhile. After walking in the door, I immediately asked for a pain-killer, wolfed it down and crashed on the couch. As I lay there breathing away the stinging sensation, I had a vivid recollection of one of the sessions I’d attended at the pain management group last year.

“You’ve probably all been on Neurontin at one point,” the nurse clinician stated casually, glancing around the group. She was reviewing medications commonly used for chronic pain disorders; and Neurontin is a brand name for an anti-convulsant commonly used for seizure disorders as well as for shooting or stabbing pain. Well, no, I wanted to counter, I don’t believe that I’ve ever been on it – at least not voluntarily. There I was, alone in my acknowledged non-use of any type of meds to deal with my pain. Alone and cringing at the anecdotes related by others in the group.

The stories told were horrifying: S., who was dealing with the after-effects of a botched urological surgery, was on gabapentin (normally used to curb epileptic seizures) to treat her pain. One day while sitting in a restaurant, she was struck by a case of acute pancreatitis, causing her to faint and be rushed to the emergency room, then hospitalized for a week. Now she is on meds to deal with the harm done to her pancreas…

The list was eight pages long, and included everything from ibuprophen, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and muscle relaxants to opiods, cannaboids and steroids. The faces of people around me told some of their stories as they nodded in recognition, and compared notes; suggesting that Effexor might have a better effect than another drug.

The side effects were mentioned but only in passing. The nurse clinician also pointed out that sometimes a given prescribed drug, regardless of its potency, might lose its effectiveness… so it should be discussed with a doctor because the dose can be increased. “There’s no problem with increasing the dose,” she noted, no problem at all…

One look at the dizzying list of opiods sent shivers up my spine; I recognized a few names with which I had developed an all-too-intimate connection during my hospitalization and brief period after discharge; Oxycontin, Percocet, Dilaudid and Fentanyl.

What was going to do more damage; the drugs or not being on them and coping with the pain day by day? I don’t know or claim to judge others’ decisions about their pain management. But the stories I heard were enough to convince me that I’d done the right thing by weaning myself off that hard stuff.

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