What Happens When You’re on the Wrong Side of the Opioid Crisis?

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It’s late afternoon and I’m sitting in the recliner in my library watching the kids playing by the pond through the window. I’m in immense pain. Spring has finally arrived in Iowa and I spent the day planting our garden. I invested hours on my feet rototilling and digging enough trenches to house 240 seeds, plenty of crops to feed my family through next winter.

Two weeks ago I was in my workshop when I got up from my chair, walked a few steps and fell. My foot twisted, leg buckled and on the way down I smashed my head on the frame of the open door before landing on the concrete floor, bruising the hand I stretched out to protect myself with on impact.

Stars floating around the room. There was a haze. What happened? I mean, I had only taken a few steps. I sat there collecting myself before finally calling my husband who came, picked me up and took me to the emergency room.

In September of 2017 I had broken my foot. Unsure of what I had done, I waited over two weeks before seeing a doctor, only to discover through an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that I had a stress fracture across the metatarsals.

I waited to see a doctor because I didn’t recall doing anything that would have injured my foot. The day it began hurting I had been running around the yard playing with my son. I jumped on the trampoline. I beat on the Mixed Martial Arts bag. I had only done the things I normally do each day.

I would then wear an Aircast boot until February of 2018 when the Orthopedic doctor cleared me. At this time the stress fracture was 85% healed. It was fully surrounded and protected by new bone growth.

During those five months I never asked for narcotic pain medication.

The pain was tolerable and when it wasn’t it was manageable with Ibuprofen and Tylenol.

The test results from my recent fall show that both my head and hand injuries were merely surface and are expected to heal on their own within a week. The damage done to my foot and ankle are extensive.

My ankle is broken, my foot fractured, cartilage torn, and tendons torn and inflamed. Six to eight months from now when my bones will be fully healed the torn cartilage will require surgery. The tendons will heal on their own in time with the possibility of long term treatment for Bursitis.

The only good news was that my original metatarsal stress fracture was near 100% healed.

The ER referred me back to the doctor who treated me for the stress fracture and sent me home with six Vicodin.

The next morning when I woke up I took a Vicodin. The pain was surreal and sent a wave of panic through my body. 16 hours later, at bedtime, I took another. I had taken Ibuprofen throughout the day.

The remaining four Vicodin were taken at bedtime the next four nights.

If I were to describe my threshold for pain I would say I am a strong woman. I’m a woman who has served my country. I am a woman who has given birth twice naturally, as in with no pain medication. I survived cancer and one week after surgery I asked to be prescribed Naproxen because I no longer felt I needed to be taking Percocet. I am a woman who performs high intensity acts of physical labor daily, while relishing in the soreness as a sense of accomplishment.

The pain from my broken bones is intolerable.

Days passed. I was taking Ibuprofen 800 and extra strength Tylenol around the clock but it hardly puts a dent in the pain. I contacted the doctor asking for seven more Vicodin so I’m able to take one at bedtime for the next week.

I knew that if I could rest well at night I would have more tolerance for the pain during the day. I also knew that it would only be a matter of weeks before the pain steadily subsides on its own as my bones slowly begin to heal. I just need to get through the initial impact phase of my injury.

Do you know there is an opioid epidemic in America? This was the lecture I was given when I asked for seven Vicodin-not 30, not 90, not refills, but seven. This is the same doctor I have a history with. The same doctor who knows I did not ask for narcotic pain medication when he previously treated me.

I pleaded my case. It’s inhuman to allow me to suffer in this much pain, I exclaimed and, What about the damage being done to my body by taking 3,200 milligrams of Ibuprofen and 1,500 milligrams of Acetaminophen in a 24 hour time period every day?

I was told if I felt the pain was that severe I should go to the emergency room for a one time dosage of pain medication. I was basically told, run up a huge bill for your insurance company to cover so you can experience temporary pain relief.

As far as health insurance goes my husband’s coverage through his employer is a dream come true during a time when health insurance is a main topic of debate with the rising fear that millions may lose their coverage as the financial expense continues to rise as well.

His employer covers the monthly premium which equates to zero cost to us. As long as we stay inside their network we have no deductible or copay with the exception of $200 out of pocket cost for emergency room visits.

As unbelievable as this coverage is it also leaves me trapped. If I were to decided to receive treatment from a different doctor I would have to leave the network and therefore pay out of pocket, what I imagine to be a significant expense given the extent of my injury. This also presents a challenge in filing a complaint.

I was told the doctor would review my request for the seven Vicodin and get back to me by the end of the day.

The next morning, after not hearing from him, I called the clinic and asked to speak with his nurse. She wasn’t in yet and I left a message for her to return my call.

It was now mid afternoon and I hadn’t heard back from her. I was on my way to the hospital. The pain was so extreme that I seriously considered the emergency room an option, even more so I was alone meaning I would need to stay in the emergency room waiting room until I was no longer altered by the pain medication and safe to drive myself home, most likely in extreme pain again.

Just as I had pulled into the hospital parking lot my cellphone rang. It was a different nurse from the clinic calling to inform me there was a prescription for ten Vicodin waiting for me at the front desk.

I was both relieved and grateful.

I turned around and headed to the clinic, picked up the prescription and went to the pharmacy to have it filled.

Later that night when I was getting ready for bed I pulled the bottle out to take a pill. That’s when I noticed it was my primary care doctor’s name, who works in the same clinic on the label as the prescribing doctor. I hadn’t put much thought into why a different nurse called me at the time by now I know why.

Even after I insisted it was inhuman to allow me to suffer in pain, even after I had only asked for enough to take at bedtime, even after I questioned how negative effects of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen would impact my health the doctor treating me for my injury still did not prescribe me pain medication.

There is in fact an opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse an average of 115 people per day overdose on opioids and statistics show over 70% of these overdoses are from prescription drugs. I have no argument for this.

It’s the standard norm in Western Medicine to treat with medication and mask symptoms, going as far as operating pain management clinics with the sole intention of maintaining patients on narcotic pain meds. Doctors should be educating patients on other non addictive methods such as diet, meditation, physical therapy, chiropractic care and whole health. Narcotic pain medication is intended for short term use.

It’s intended to be used in the exact way I requested from my doctor. A great deal of my healing will depend on me. Once the initial unbearable pain from impact begins to subside it’s on me to take care of myself and follow the doctor’s treatment instructions, but at the same time how am I supposed to feel comfortable with receiving health care from a doctor who is treating me as an epidemic and not a patient?

©️ 2018, Erika Sauter. All Rights Reserved.

Behavioral Science ed/ reporter in Eastern Iowa. Informed and opinionated. My hobbies include petting cats, research and farming.

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