A cautionary tale: One man’s addiction is another’s saving grace
Every morning, Jimmy — not his real name — opens his eyes and asks himself: Is it going to hurt too much to get out of bed today?
Originally from Texas and a Blount County resident by way of Louisiana, Jimmy lives with excruciating pain, courtesy of a horrific car wreck and repeated wear and tear on his body. Although he takes large amounts of pain medication every day, he’s not an addict — but he has a message for those who are:
“Think about your future, and the future of your loved ones,” he told me this week, on the back deck of his rural Blount County home. “Quit abusing this medication now before it’s too late. You could actually need pain management, and you won’t get it.”
Jimmy doesn’t want to use his real name because he’s well aware that addicts, desperate for a fix, could very well find out where he lives and invade his home. And because of the shape he’s in, he would have no choice but to meet such a break-in with deadly force, and he doesn’t want that on his conscience.
As far back as Jimmy can remember, he wanted a career in law enforcement. He found it through the military and thought he would remain a member of the U.S. armed forces for life. He was a physical fitness buff and was in the greatest shape of his life when he was in that 1988 car wreck.
Over the next several years, his spine was slowly deteriorating, and he didn’t realize it. He dismissed the pain until one day he woke up and couldn’t get out of bed; medical exploration discovered that he had a fully compressed nerve in his lower back. By that point, the pain was more than excruciating; it was maddening.
“It starts with this burning, from your feet all the way up to your back, and then there’s this mechanical throbbing that you can feel all through your body,” he said. “When that starts, I’m ready to kill myself. I have to spend 90 percent of my day in bed.”
Surgery in 1995 alleviated some of the pain, but the damage to his back was done. At least eight discs have deteriorated, he has bone spurs on his vertebrae and today his spinal nerve is compressed in his upper back.
The saving grace is a pain pump installed in his body that releases 30 micrograms of Fentanyl — a powerful narcotic — a day. With the medication, the burning in his back is reduced to that of a bad sunburn; unfortunately, because of paranoia on the part of the medical community over drug seekers and zealous safeguards designed to keep such medication out of the hands of addicts, Jimmy faces a future where his medication may soon be cut back or eliminated.
His doctor already tried reducing his Fentanyl to half the dosage Jimmy feels he needs just to be upright; for two months, he was bedridden while trying to adjusts to 15 micrograms until his doctor increased the dosage back to its present level. And it’s not like Jimmy wants to stay on this medication.
“I want to live,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can and writing to everyone I can to emphasize that neurosurgery can really help me. Every time I have to go to the pharmacy, I’m embarrassed. I feel guilty. I’ve avoided the types of pain clinics you read about in the papers and only gone to board certified pain specialists, but so many doctors are afraid of being busted that it’s getting harder and harder to find some relief.”
Unfortunately, his spinal cord stimulator — a device that sends electrical impulses to the nerves in his back to help with pain relief — prevents Jimmy from receiving X-rays; CT scans only reveal so much, and because the problem has been so persistent and ongoing, the doctors he’s seen over the years seem to have given up hope.
And that, he said, is the most demoralizing thing of all.
“I wish physical dependence was my only problem, because I could do without all of this,” he said. “I would be at every meeting, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I could handle that, no problem. I can’t handle this kind of pain. One of these days, this might be the end of me.”
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.