As you may have noticed, I didn’t have a blog entry for last week. And it wasn’t because there wasn’t anything to talk about. I actually had a positive update, having lost nearly three pounds that week AND finally dipping under 290. You would have thought I’d have been shouting from the rooftops.
Instead I was unconscious on pain pills.
See, this is the main issue with my ongoing struggle with back pain. The “cure” often sidelines me every bit as much as the pain. Maybe more so, because it affects my very consciousness.
Those who know me know that I have two jobs: the nine-to-five that pays the bills and the writing career. It kills my soul daily that I have to regulate my dream to ‘hobby hours,’ just to be able to survive. It’s a compromise. It’s not the ideal. And this year, my opportunity to make inroads as a screenwriter has monopolized those few hours I do get to chase my dream, which means I have seriously neglected the part of my career that has made me the most money.
But whatever it takes, right? These are the perimeters in which I’m forced to operate, so I have to navigate these narrow corridors as best I can.
I can’t do that unconscious, which is where western medicine leaves me when my back decides to take a powder. The only thing they can do for me is A.) give me strong medication I’m loath to take and B.) steal all the rest of my precious time away on every new gamble that MAYBE this new thing will work longer than the old thing.
This week I had my first appointment with the physical medicine department. This was supposed to be for an epidural shot for the pain. My thought was, no – I don’t really want a shot in my back but if it gets me upright and stabilized, it’s worth it.
But remember in my last blog, when I said that going to the doctor again for my back meant I knew I was getting back on the merry-go-round with more tests to needle down the “cause” and the “cure”? Well, this appointment was that, even though he actually did a range of motion test and actually listened to me when I talked to him. When I told him what the previous doctor said about weight, he conceded that weight can be an issue but there are just simply folks who are going to suffer from chronic back pain, heavy or thin. He said weight management was something that they often discussed, but really the issue was strengthening the core muscles that surround the back to stabilize it.
His focus was my back, not my weight. It was refreshing. (I can ONLY hope it wasn’t because my husband was there at the appointment with me.)
Honestly I got the impression that the shot was really a small part in the overall cure, and I could pursue it if I wanted but isolating the root cause (which at this point really points to nerve pain since it radiates down through my hip and into my leg) and dealing with it through that strengthening of the core was really the bigger focus of the treatment.
This starts with an MRI to rule out that there isn’t any disc damage now that wasn’t there eleven years ago when I had the last one.
I haven’t scheduled it yet, mostly because I’m a big baby who is extraordinarily claustrophobic. The last time I had one, I nearly flipped out being slid into that silly machine. I will, don’t worry, I just need a little time to wrap my mind around it and gear up to it.
In the meantime he offered yet another pill to help deal this time with the nerve pain. It’s called Nortriptyline and it’s an anti-depressant, which was not good news for me. I hate anti-depressants because I have yet to take one that makes me feel legitimately better. Most either make me go numb or kill my creativity and steal away the parts that make me “me.” I’ve been on Paxil, on Wellbutrin, on Effexor – and none of them have ever made me feel “normal.” Much like the pain pills that steal precious hours away from me by knocking my ass out, they steal so much more from me than they give. Considering my past history with suicide, I want nothing – NOTHING – to do with anything that could exacerbate that risk.
Both Chris Cornell and Robin Williams were being treated for their depression with medication, and still succumbed to the unthinkable. That scares the shit out of me. I’m barely holding on sometimes as it is. I don’t want the very life-saver I’m clutching to turn into pure led and drag me down to the depths as I struggle to keep afloat.
He explained that this wouldn’t work like that because at such a small dose (10mg,) it would work on the nerve pain when taken nightly with the Tramadol I was already taking. I just couldn’t take it during the day because it would make me sleepy (big FUCKING surprise) and he advised NOT to take it with the muscle relaxer.
So I was like, fine. Whatever. Get me mobile, doc. Then we can worry about the “real” cure – which essentially means I’m going to have to devote my precious time and attention to working on my back. I just need to get past the acute stage of pain first.
The second warning bell went off at the pharmacy, when I experienced a delay getting the prescription filled because the pharmacy needed the doctor himself to clear it, considering there was an issue with taking Tramadol and Nortriptyline together.
But I have to trust the doctor, right? So did the pharmacy, apparently, who filled the order finally. They gave me a box of pills set up with weekly therapy: one pill a night for the first week and if that wasn’t effective, I could increase it to two doses a night for the next week. If that didn’t work, go to three for week three, four to week four or finally five doses on week five – with a maximum dose of 50mg nightly as needed for pain. I was told, however, to take the lowest effective dosage, which was fine with me considering I didn’t really want to take this new pill at all.
But desperate times called for desperate measures.
I did tell my husband, my bestie and my kids, though – if you see me demonstrate ANY questionable behavior, please say something. DO something. Don’t let this new fucking pill gaily trip along my subconscious, turning off every filter that keeps me in what narrow control I currently have.
That first night I took the first pill with my Tramadol and still had a helluva time letting myself fall asleep. The whole thing at the pharmacy really fucked with my head. IS this safe to take together? I mean, yes, a guy in a white coat assured me it was fine, but the one and only time I had a hallucination was on prescribed medicine, under a doctor’s advice. I was taking Tramadol that time too, and my doc prescribed Ambien to help me sleep. You wouldn’t think I’d need it on such heavy pain medication, but after a while, it doesn’t make you sleep anymore, and I had been on it for a good little bit by that point. I made the mistake of taking the two together and whoa, nelly. It was a wild ride. I gave up on the Ambien a week into taking it, which resulted in one of the worst panic attacks of my life.
I hate, hate, hate pills. Hate em. HATE.
But, to my delight and surprise, the pills actually started to work this time around. I felt better. I slept better. I was moving with very little thought, which meant the pain was actually, finally, inhibited.
For two days anyway.
By Day Three, I started experiencing troubling side effects. I was at work that morning and I was getting dizzier by the minute, which made me nauseated. My heart started to race and I knew that a panic attack was setting in, which makes it hard as hell to work when you’re spending 100% of your energy trying to normalize. I made the HUGE mistake of going online to figure out if these were side effects of the new medication. Why was the pharmacy so reticent to fill this prescription?
As anyone in a post Internet world knows, if you already feel bad and you start to self-diagnose with what you find on the web, you’re going to convince yourself that you’re gonna die. This is never a good idea when you’re on the verge of a panic attack. By the time I got to “serotonin syndrome,” I was freaking the fuck out. This condition can occur thanks to certain medication that causes serotonin to accumulate in your brain, kinda like, oh… Nortriptyline AND Tramadol, and symptoms run the gamut from nausea/vomiting to seizures and DEATH.
Panic attack mode: secured.
Unlike the panicky feeling I would get on certain strains/dosages of cannabis, where I was secure in the knowledge that no one had actually ever DIED from it, I no longer had that assurance. Now I had this potentially fatal cocktail coursing through my body and nothing to do but read the signs and pray it on the more benign side of the side effects scale.
Quite a gamble if you ask me, and an expensive one at that. Hence my biggest issue about Big Pharma and cannabis prohibition.
So that night I didn’t take either pill. Fuck all that noise. I’m not going to get killed by the cure. The very day I went to the new doctor I nearly passed out at work because of this toxic mix of man-made chemicals screwing up my body chemistry – and I was still in pain on top of it all.
The new meds helped with the pain, finally, but I’m not sure that it’s worth wondering if every little twinge I get is something significantly worse than any other normal twinge. I’ve never had a seizure, but they don’t look like a whole lot of fun.
So what’s the answer? Well, the doc gave me the answer. It’s not in a pill, or a shot. I have a bad back and it sucks to be me, but them’s just the cards I was dealt. And wouldn’t you know it, everything I want is on the other side of pain and I have to do – big surprise – whatever it takes to get to the other side of it. So I’m going to have to do the exercises, the stretches, the physical therapy to strengthen the core, even when I have to fight through excruciating pain to do it. There is no shortcut, much as I would like there to be.
I do, however, think there is something to my theory that it might involve something in my reproductive system. When my period hit this past week, it was another hellish one. I was passing 3-inch clots and experiencing such horrendous cramps that, with combined with the back pain, put me at a steady “9” on the pain scale, just one hair away from unbearable. I cruise normally around 2 or 3, but with back pain it can go as high as 7 or 8.
If I’m sobbing in my husband’s arms for ten minutes straight, just because I can’t handle one more moment of pain, I’d say that there’s a major fucking problem. I’ve been dealing with this shit for more than a decade. I barely break.
This is breaking me, which is why I reached out for help in the first fucking place.
And the Internet sources agree. “Talk to your doctor,” they said, if a clot is bigger than a quarter.
Yeah, I tried that. She told me I was too fat and this was normal lady stuff. But, you know. Whatever.
I did file a grievance with this particular doctor and asked to get another provider. Now it looks like I have to pay yet ANOTHER co-pay (along with what I paid the doc in physical medicine and probably the MRI too) to go see an OB/GYN just to get my issues addressed.
Getting nickled and dimed while I’m strung along for weeks, and still nothing is getting fixed?
Sounds like western medicine to me.
Fuck the system. That’s all I’m saying.
I can’t be unconscious for weeks and I refuse to live in a constant state of panic. I’ve got shit to do. I’ve got a final rewrite to do on this script, which I haven’t even been able to address because I’ve been in too much pain or medicated into a coma. After that, I need to – absolutely and positively NEED to – write another book. My career is flat-lining and my creative soul is gasping its final, dying breath to express itself.
If I don’t get back to “me” – and soon – there may not be anything left.
It’s not going to be easy, and I know it’s going to hurt like a mother, but I have to fix this the old fashioned way. I’ve got to grit my teeth and do whatever it takes to make my incredible body as strong as it can be. Because it can be. I can make it so.
I can do this. Whatever it takes.
Just… don’t judge me if I cry, okay?