My pain became constant in the 1980s, and instead of opioids, it was treated with antidepressants. Lots and lots of antidepressants. Prozac was one of the first antidepressants that I was prescribed, and although it did nothing for my pain, it made me feel very strange — as if I was living outside of my body.
Let me make it clear that I’ve never been diagnosed with depression.
I was also prescribed Elavil and Lexapro for chronic pain, titrating up to the maximum dosage on both drugs with no benefit whatsoever. And then there were the antidepressants that made me sad… and ironically, depressed.
Then came the 1990s and the use of antidepressants exploded. After I had jaw surgery in the early 90s, I went through months of harrowing and painful physical therapy on my jaw. During that time, I was still allowed to have pain medications, but when my money ran out and I couldn’t afford any more physical therapy, I was abandoned by all of my doctors.
“We’ve done everything we can. We can’t help you.” (Yeah? Well in that case, I want all my money back.)
I had the oral surgery in Austin and moved back to Houston shortly thereafter. I was broke and in pain, and I couldn’t find even one doctor to help me in the large city of Houston, Texas.
I don’t usually suffer from colds, and I’ve only had the flu once, but that year I came down with the worst cold I had ever experienced. It seemed like nothing helped the symptoms, even though I tried every other-the-counter drug I could afford. Obviously, the congestion and achiness made my facial and jaw pain worse, so I was in pretty bad shape.
As a pain patient, I was prescribed many medications that didn’t help — did I throw them all away? No, in fact, I found an old bottle of antidepressants in my bathroom closet, and I thought, why not try again? But the antidepressant was a very strong one, an MAOI inhibitor. At that time, there wasn’t a warning about taking cold medications and MAOIs, although I believe there is one now.
Basically, I was looking for some kind of pain relief — any relief, I didn’t care where it came from. How many of those pills did I take before becoming unconscious? I don’t know, but looking back on it now, I don’t recall ever thinking about suicide. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted some relief, and those pills were my only option at the time.
When I came to, I was in the hospital. The doctors and my family told me that my heart had stopped and that I had been dead. While I was unconscious, the doctors told my family that there wasn’t a very good chance of me waking up, and if I did, I would undoubtedly suffer from brain damage.
Yes, there was some confusion for the first couple of hours after I awoke, but that’s about it. And yet, I was trapped inside that hospital room for 5 days. I begged them to release me — told them I couldn’t afford to pay — all to no avail.
The hospital would not allow me to have street clothes, so I talked my boyfriend at the time into bringing me some, along with my car. And then I was able to escape, thankfully for my own sanity.
To treat my chronic pain in the hospital, the doctors prescribed massage, and I really wish it had helped. Not too long after I escaped, I was lucky enough to find a connection to some marijuana. Pot found in Texas was not the best, and sometimes not even mediocre, but these connections got me through the next 6 or 7 years so I could work and see my son.
But these underground connections were not very reliable, and eventually, I ceased to have any. Which then forced me back into finding pain relief within the medical industry. By that time, the pain had traveled into my neck and shoulders, and I finally decided to try opioid therapy. Let me say that before I had surgery, I was required to try every other available treatment, including biofeedback and acupuncture, so opioid therapy was the only option left.
Texas was the first state to pass an Intractable Pain Act to protect doctors who prescribed opioids, so I was able to find one who did (see my post on Dr. Joel Hochman). When Dr. Hochman suddenly passed away, on the day of my scheduled monthly appointment, I was abandoned again. His office referred a handful of favored patients to another pain doctor, but I was left out in the cold, without even a way to get my patient file. I finally ended up seeing Dr. Forest Tennant in California, who also ended up abandoning me.
After being abandoned by Dr. Tennant, I did think about suicide. This time, I also ended up in a hospital, but this one was a mental hospital. For 7 days I was locked up against my will because I was unable to manage my pain and the medical industry was not interested in doing so. I was finally released, with a referral to a pain doctor, who was only interested in prescribing a low dose of opioids, if that. And that’s when I finally gave up on doctors, saved enough money to move, and ended up here in New Mexico because of its Medical Cannabis Program.
Unfortunately, I’ve also been abandoned by New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program because I cannot afford both the cost to renew and the ridiculously expensive cost of marijuana at the legal dispensaries. The co-pay for 180 hydrocodone per month was about $10. I calculated my monthly cost for an adequate supply of medical cannabis to be about $1,800.
My chronic pain is never-ending, but support from doctors hinges on many things that I have no control over, like insurance companies and the drug war. The moral of this story is that chronic pain patients should never rely on the medical industry and doctors — or anyone else for that matter — they will support you one minute, and then the next, dump you like a sack of rotting potatoes infected with Ebola.