1976. Army. On duty in Fulda Gap. Jeep flipped over on my back.
I was a tough kid, so I put up with it. After decades of lower back pain, it finally became too much. In 2008 I went to a spine specialist and surgeon at Kaiser in San Jose, CA. While there, the doctors told me I would need metal support surgery in my lumbar and cervical spine. Lumbar surgery went OK, but didn’t alleviate my pain there, in fact it increased it. Cervical surgery was so complicated it became three different surgeries and a ton of new pain.
I joined a Pain Management program, dosed with MME (morphine milligram equivalent) around 240 for the following year. I learned and tried all the pain management techniques, tried all the alternative methodologies, including injections.
Then out of nowhere my pain doctors decided to titrate my meds down over the next six months. They didn’t stop until I was completely off the pain meds. I just fell apart. Total lack of care. Went on disability. Fell into depression. Less than a year later I was suicidal.
THE LACK OF CARE IN AMERICA
After talking over the situation with my wife, she agreed that it looked like I had little recourse, she suggested we leave America, and try living overseas. We went to Thailand. I was still suicidal, but we tried seeing specialists in Chang Mai. There was nothing they could do regarding the surgeries, but they turned me on to Bangkok Hospital’s Pain Management Clinic. Their approach – total pain support.
They started me on an initial MME of 240, but when that wasn’t effective enough, they raised it to 360. MS-Contin, long acting, with additional immediate-release 10mg pills in case of breakthrough pain. The rest of the program included physical therapy 3 x week, massage 3 x week, psych counseling, and social programs. Wonderful program, the best I’ve experienced. NO shame, NO guilt, just help. Over six years, MME was raised to 600.
In February 2018, we returned to Lodi, California to live near our new grandkids. I was in great shape, and thought, with the documentation I carried from Bangkok Hospital, and the wonderful results therein contained, doctors here would continue the treatment. WRONG.
Over the last year doctors have cut my MME down to 90 per day. I am in terrible pain. Constant bad breakthrough pain. All my other support (psych, social) is gone. Physical Therapy here is not as thorough as it is in Thailand. massage? Forget about it. Lectures on the opioid crisis however, are unrelenting. Doses of shame, guilt, plentiful. My doctors know little about MME, or the difference between the meds, or interventional radiology. When I try to explain, I’m ignored, and receive another lecture about the horrors of addiction.
WHEN YOUR COUNTRY ABANDONS YOU
This is my life in the land of the free. Liberty? Government and doctors refusing care. Lectures on the opioid addiction mess. A mess not of my making, has nothing to do with me. I have never overdosed or used street drugs. Until this last year, I have never taken more pills than those prescribed. Now? What’s a man to do? Lay in a dark room in pain, ignoring his family, ignoring social interaction? I’m fast slipping back into depression, and again considering a move back to Thailand, if my wife and I can stand to leave our grand kids.
I’m sixty-five years old. A veteran. I have advanced education and have been successful in my career. And my doctors shame me and treat me like a troubled child. America, do better.
Editor’s note: Michael reached out to us through What’s Your Story, and he and I corresponded back and forth a few times. We’re not sharing Michael’s last name because people with chronic pain are concerned with retribution. With patients being forced off pain meds, excessive policing by government agencies and the lack of care in the pain field, who can blame them. That’s the state of chronic pain in America and it’s shameful.
As the Director of Patient Content at Patients Rising, Jim works very closely with the people who have healthcare war stories to tell. As a Columbia University trained writing consultant Jim has worked closely with writers of all levels of skill to help them find and refine their voices. Jim is a writer, editor, author and medical assistant with over 20 years of experience in healthcare. He’s spent over two decades in clinical care and research at some of New York’s biggest health institutions doing hands-on nursing, education and advocacy for rare disease patients.