Pain Management Clinics – The Gateway To Addiction
“We’ll have to refer you to a Pain Management Clinic,” the orthopedic surgeon told me.
He was the third surgeon I’d seen who refused to perform an operation on my leg that I had become convinced would alleviate my chronic lower back pain. When I was 18, I broke my left femur. When they repaired it – it was a few degrees off – so my foot turned in when I walked. After my first pregnancy at age 30, my whole skeletal structure was a wreck and I was in constant pain.
I couldn’t sit, stand or lay down. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I was a mess. I became obsessed with the idea that if they could just re-break my femur and fix it, then my pain would go away.
So I made appointments with three orthopedic surgeons in my area (Washington, D.C.). I went to Georgetown, I went to Johns Hopkins and I went to Sibly.
Each time the surgeon looked at me like I was insane – telling me – “You could die.” They would write me a prescription for pain killers (I had quite the pharmacy in my cabinet) and physical therapy and send me on my way.
Didn’t work. Physical therapy only helped for about 30 minutes. Oh and I hated pain killers. HATED THEM. They made me feel dizzy and sick and disconnected. I had no idea that pain killers were addictive. The doctors handed them out to me like they were candy. Now that I know about pain killers – that they ARE heroin – it scares me how close I was to such a dangerous, addictive poison.
So, it was at that third doctor’s appointment where I heard that pain management suggestion. I’d never heard of “pain management.” But it sounded GREAT! Finally! I would have help managing this pain! I thought maybe it would be a team of doctors who specialized in my type of orthopedic problems and that they would maybe combine the physical therapy, the massage, some of the meds and stretches and get me on a path to being pain free.
Man, was I dumb.
I showed up to the pain management clinic that day with high hopes. I had all my x-rays, my MRIs, cat scans, doctor’s notes – you name it. This was it! My day to get on the road to feeling better!
I opened the door and it looked like a regular, small, unimpressive clinical office. A nurse came to get me and I was required to put on one those horrible hospital robes and lay on a table. A doctor came in and asked me what was wrong. I began to talk and explain – back pain, hip pain, tailbone pain – I have all of my records for you to see for yourself. He responded that he didn’t need to see any of it. Then he left.
The nurse came back and said, “The doctor says you need an epidural and some pain killer meds like Vicodin. This will last you 3 to 4 weeks and then you can return for another shot and prescription.”
Like, an epidural-epidural? Like what I had when I gave birth to my son? Where I was numb from my belly button to my ankles? Is that, like, a good idea? How will I know if I hurt myself? Isn’t that just masking the problem and not fixing it? If I get this and don’t feel when I’m hurting, and I move too much or in the wrong way, won’t it make the problem worse?? And if it only lasts a few weeks, do I have to keep coming back for the rest of my life? Not to mention, can I feel if I have to go to the ladies room? What about other female challenges? How is this making this problem better?
I actually asked all of these questions. The nurse was visibly annoyed with me. There were other patients waiting, she responded. Do you want this epidural and pain killer prescription or not?
I was so confused. She was a REAL nurse. He was a REAL doctor. They went to medical school and GRADUATED – studying MEDICINE. Surely the would know the right course of action for me, right? Why not trust them and see if this works?
But then it occurred to me – pain management was not about fixing the pain. It was about getting rid of the symptoms of pain using whatever medical means possible.
And even though this clinic came recommended by a very fancy orthopedic surgeon, and even though they were REAL doctors and nurses – it all felt wrong to me.
So I walked. Clumsily and painfully so – but I walked nonetheless.
I told the nurse, no thanks. I winced in pain each move I made to get dressed. I limped out the door and to my car. And it HURT. But I just felt like that whole scenario was just plain wrong.
Turns out my instincts were spot on. It was just over 10 years ago that I first heard of “pain management clinics.” Back then they were new on the scene. Nowadays, you can find a pain management clinic on every corner on every street whether it’s a big city or the tiniest of towns. They are now sometimes called “pill mills,” a term used primarily by local and state investigators to describe a doctor, clinic or pharmacy that is prescribing or dispensing powerful narcotics inappropriately or for non-medical reasons.
I think it probably starts out as a “medical,” but then quickly turns into “NON-medical,” when the patients become addicted. Then the “doctors,” turn into “drug dealers.”
That’s what would have happened to me. It was happening to me, actually. But I was fortunate enough to trust my instincts and get away.
I know pain hurts. I know it can blind you and make you think crazy thoughts. But you know what else does that? Pain killers. So now you’re in pain and you’re addicted to drugs. That kind of addiction causes everyone else pain too, doesn’t it? Your kids. Your job. Your friends and family.
Don’t trade pain for addiction. It’s not worth it.
I’m lucky I chose pain over drug addiction. I left the clinic that day and on a whim called a Chiropractor. The first two months at this chiropractor were excruciating. But then, slowly, I began to heal. I’m still not 100% pain free. I realize that I never will be. Some days are worse than others – sometimes I can’t sleep, sometimes I can’t do everything I want to do – but I am grateful beyond grateful that I am here doing my own “pain management,” and not hopelessly addicted to pain killers and epidurals.
Feeling some pain is better than feeling nothing.