For the last few years I’ve been prescribed painkillers, as well as a long list of other medications, for chronic pain from my back problems. When you have a constant level of discomfort then ‘needs must’ as they say. I don’t want to be on these medications but if I don’t have them then I just cannot walk. It feels like having a very long, sharp needle sticking in from my heels right up to into my shoulder blades, if I don’t take any painkillers my pain scale (0 being no pain at all – 10 being the worst pain imaginable) is a 9. With my medications the pain averages about a 7-8, a few years ago the tablets would lower it down to about a 6 but gradually my body has adjusted and needs more and more to control the pain. I have never experienced a level of pain lower than 6.
The dihydrocodeine I take, on a daily basis, to purely function is at its maximum dose. I admit at times it goes above and beyond, when the pain doesn’t subside and there’s nothing else to turn to I feel it’s my only hope. I take diazepam as well for muscle and nerve spasms, it really is a vile medication but one that I need in acute moments of pain and also before I try to get some sleep at night. The feeling of wading through mud the next day with a diazepam ‘hangover’ is awful, the nausea and accompanying headache render me unable to move at times. All these side effects just because I need to take the medications in order to be able to walk – and that’s walking on crutches too.
The morphine wrecks my body, after being in hospital last year, being fed it through my drip and the oral version left me with cracked and peeling skin all over my face, body and hands. Yet still I need to take it when my pain escalates and it does that quite often.
Each day I have a battle to disguise the dark marks under my eyes, bought on from the amount of medications I take. People have stopped saying how tired I look after I continually told them that that they were marks on my skin and not from lack of rest.
My hair breaks off in places and falls quite badly, so I have a shelf full of products that claim to strengthen hair and stop the breakage. But are they going to work on my medication riddled locks? I’m going to use them in the hope that my once thick, wavy hair has a second chance.
The path of prescription painkillers has left me a shell of my former self, I worry what the medications are doing to my insides after seeing the state of the outside! I am reliant on my medicines, without them I have no mobility due to the pain level – with them I’m in a constant world of confusion, frustration and annoyance. In the past, huge doses of combination meds saw me spend thousands of pounds in just a couple of months, it affected my ability to stop the ‘feel good factor’ of spending money, I’d forget that I had even ordered things and then a massive delivery of random items would arrive. I’m in a better frame of mind nowadays but the damage there is already done financially!
I’ve been taking Perfectil’s Skin-Hair-Nails multivitamins to try and reverse some of the side effects but that’s a long term process. I have to take vitamin D as well due to being deficient, that’s another two tablets a day… some days I feel that all I have accomplished is taking doses of different drugs.
My handbag is constantly overflowing with concealers, powders and eye brighteners, as well as the other haul of beauty products on there (Tangle Teezer, perfume, hand-cream etc.) There wedged in the corner is my medication pouch – always a few strips of dihydrocodeine, diazepam for acute pain spasms, paracetamol and anti-allergy tablets. I’m never without my meds. I’ve had to get my other half to drive all the way back one occasion on holiday when we went off on a day trip because I’d forgotten to pack my painkillers!
One year, on a long Christmas break, I decided to come off the meds so I lowered the doses for a few days then eased them completely. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve endured. The GP’s always say to me that these are addictive drugs and to try and lessen the dose – what they fail to see is that my pain is sky-high and it’s impossible to do so unless I’m stationary at home then after about 3 weeks of fevers, shaking, vomiting and insomnia they are finally getting out of my poor, battered body and then …it’s time to go back to work and so the vicious circle begins again! I started off taking a few painkillers but after a few weeks the pain was back up to the previous high level and I was back to being reliant on the medicines in order to have any mobility at all.
Lots of research has been done on chronic pain and the benefit of opioid treatment, I recently read the article ‘Opioid dependence and addiction during opioid treatment of chronic pain’ by Jane C. Ballantyne & Steven LaForge (Pain 129 (2007) 235–255) which explores the subject and looks at the power that this substance has over people, both prescribed and illicit usage and the knock-on effects:
‘Yet in pain patients, the clinical picture of progression from use to problematic use to addiction differs markedly from that in illicit users. Continued use in an illicit setting often progresses rapidly to addiction, to the extent that dependence and addiction are indistinguishable, and this rapid progression is likely accounted for by the circumstances and motivations associated with illicit use.
In pain patients, we see a different picture. If the progression from simple dependence through problematic use to addiction occurs, it is more subtle and insidious so that addiction emerges as a distinct and separate syndrome, but is less obvious and much more difficult to identify.’
I’ve witnessed in myself and in others how the progression from addiction to opioid use for chronic pain escalates and that even though you are trying to hold on tight to some sense of control, when you have that power taken away from you due to having conditions that require the constant doses of strong medications, you can gradually lose your grip and it takes a huge amount of support and strength to regain control.
A life that revolves around doses of different drugs is not one that I would choose, given the opportunity. I don’t think anyone wants to be in pain and I certainly don’t want to be taking a cocktail of meds just to function each day. At the moment though, it’s the only course of action until I get to see my spinal consultant again.
I live with the hope that one day I’ll be pain-free. The nurses who I see and my lovely consultant (he really doesn’t know how much I appreciate his time, however limited!) keep me positive that there’s a solution out there, some-where, waiting for me.
The day I’m medication-free will be a day of celebration.
I support my NHS and urge everyone to follow @butNHS on Twitter and also read their blog – http://butnhs.wordpress.com/ – there is so much negative press and comments in the media regarding our heathcare, so if you have positive stories and/or comments then let them be heard! Let us come together and help ‘Big Up The NHS’
I adore the people who look after me and can’t thank them enough …but I’m long overdue being ‘me’ again☺