In December of 2006 I was doing some shopping with a few friends for an upcoming New Years Eve party. It was on my way home that evening that I was the victim of a terrible traffic accident that resulted in breaking my left femur.
It was cold outside, but the weather was not bad for December. I remember clearly that there was no snow on the ground yet. I was headed East at around 55 miles an hour when another driver heading the opposite direction lost control and crossed the center line. It all happened incredibly fast, and before I could even think about reacting I slammed into the other vehicle.. I was wearing my seat belt but my vehicle hit the other car with such an impact that I was thrown into the steering wheel of my car, breaking my left femur about six inches above the knee. (Photo Below)
I am very lucky to even be alive and telling you my story. The accident could have been much worse. If I were not wearing my seat belt I am positive that I would have probably been thrown through the front windshield. What followed was a major surgery to insert a titanium rod down into my left femur to stabilize the bone and allow it to heal. I was able to go home two days after the surgery, but it took months and months to get back to the point where I could get around well enough to take care of myself.
Throughout the recovery period after my initial surgery I was on prescription pain medication. I started on Vicodin 750 milligrams three times a day. I took them as needed. I did not abuse them in any way. I was aware of that Vicodin was a narcotic and carried the possibility of abuse with it. After my prescription for Vicodin ran out I was then put on Ultram, and after that Darvocet, and then back to the Vicodin. The reasoning from my orthopedic specialist’s point of view was that this rotation of pain meds would help to lower the abuse potential that these drugs carried. I had absolutely zero issues with abuse or dependence during this period. So the strategy of rotating these drugs seemed to work.
About a year and a half later I began to notice SEVERE pain while bending over in a certain manner. I mean, like excruciating pain, like I had not felt since I was first put in traction on the side of the road when the accident happened. One of the pins that held the titanium rod in place would catch on a tendon or something in my left hip, and when this would happen it caused immense pain until I moved my leg around in just the right way to free the stuck tendon. The solution to this issue was another surgery to remove the titanium rod and pins holding it in place. My femur was fully healed by this time and the titanium rod was really no longer necessary. This surgery took a fraction of the time to do compared with the previous surgery to put the rod in. The recovery period was also shorter for this surgery, about two and a half months.
After the second surgery and several months of physical therapy, I began to notice other painful issues with my left leg and hip as well as my lower back on the left side. If I stood in one position too long, sat in the same position too long, or if I were to go on too long of a walk, I would get a burning type of pain in my left hip combined with a weird numbness and tingling that traveled down my left leg into my knee. The second thing was that along with the numb, burning pain in my left hip and leg I would also have some pretty terrible left lower back pain, radiating up into my back from my left hip and buttocks.
Both of these issues were quite troublesome to me so I began ongoing treatment with my family doctor, who almost instantly put me on Norco 7.5 milligrams, (an opioid narcotic containing hydrocodone), three to four times a day, or as needed. Again, I knew that these types of drugs carried the potential for addiction, but to be honest with you, I really did not understand addiction, drug tolerance, or that some addictions carried a physical withdrawal period associated with stopping after long-term use. My doctor failed to explain the perils of addiction to me completely. And yes, I failed to research them on my own at this time. These types of drugs did not honestly take the pain away, but they made the pain seem easier to tolerate. Little did I know that I was heading down a slippery slope, ever closer to physical dependence and psychological addiction.
After many x-rays and MRI scans, along with a few other tests, it was clear to both my family doctor and my pain specialist that my issues were being caused by a laceration of my sciatic nerve on my left side. This type of nerve damage is not uncommon in patients that have sustained the type of injury that I had.
Nerve pain is commonly referred to as neuropathic pain. My team of doctors first took the route of cortisone injections in my left hip area to see if it would alleviate some of the pain. To be perfectly honest I was all for anything that held the potential of giving me some relief from the pain, but the cortisone injections simply did not provide this. The next option was a procedure known as a rhizotomy to sever the nerve roots from the spinal cord and thus bypass the sciatic nerve completely. The nerve roots will grow back and the procedure will have to be repeated every six months. The problem was that I was not getting six months worth of pain relief from it. The procedure helped with my lower back pain for about a month but it did not help with any of the other pain I was having, and the rhizotomy can only be done once every six months, so it was not really a plausible solution for long-term pain relief.
After a few more tests and failed treatments, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis , sciatica, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Spinal stenosis alone can cause severe weakness and numbness that radiates from the lower back down through the legs and buttocks, especially when the patient is physically active. Sciatica also causes chronic and debilitating numbness and burning pain, almost like as if your nerves were on fire. The sacroiliac joint is medical jargon for the hip joint. Dysfunction of this joint causes severe pain that also radiates down through the legs. These two conditions combined with a lacerated sciatic nerve make for a pretty rough time.
During this entire time I was being prescribed the Norco 7.5 milligram pills. In fact I had a prescription for them for over four years! At first I was not abusing the pills. I would just go about my day and when I began to have pain I would take one or two. But after just a couple months of this one or two pills was simply not doing it any longer and I would have to take two or three. I figured it was not a big deal. The dosage instructions said to take 1-2 pills, three times a day. But by now I was beginning to realize that something was going on. I would begin to wake up feeling sick every morning until I took my morning dose of Norco. It eventually got to the point where I was running out of pills before I could get my prescription refilled at the end of each month. The first time I did not think anything of it and I called my doctor to see about having her send my refill to the pharmacy a few days early, and it was not a problem. But the following month I did the same thing and to my surprise, my doctor seemed upset or annoyed that I was calling to get my pills early again, nevertheless, she refilled my prescription early. But boy was I in for a shock the following month.
I got a letter in the mail. It was from my doctors office. I thought that it was kind of odd, as they rarely ever corresponded with me via snail mail. I opened the letter to find out that my doctor could no longer see me as a patient! I was devastated. It had taken me quite some time to find a doctor in the first place that would take the no-fault auto coverage as health insurance. I work on a farm in a small town and the money I make is generally spent before I even get it. Needless to say I was worried for several reasons.
I was addicted to the opioid pain killers I had been eating for the past four and a half years. Plain and simple. After I lost my doctor and blew through the last of my prescription I decided to try to quit cold turkey. That was a mistake. I was so sick. Vomiting, nausea, feeling cold and clammy, sweats headache, and on top of all of that my normal leg, hip, and lower back pain. I could not do it. The withdrawal was too difficult. It was like the flu multiplied 100-fold.
By the end of day two of going cold turkey, I was losing my mind. I began searching out anyone and I mean anyone who would sell me drugs on the street. I found that without the aid of insurance covering the cost of my addiction that I no longer had enough money to pay my bills and purchase enough drugs to keep withdrawals away. By this time, I had actual health insurance for the first time thanks to the ACA, but I had not found a doctor that would accept this insurance yet and simply could not wait. I had to work, and in order to not be sick and be able to work and keep my job, I had to use drugs. So that is exactly what I did. I am ashamed to even say it, but it is the truth.
I used for another year and a half or so before finally learning about Suboxone, which is an opioid replacement therapy medication. You take the Suboxone in place of whatever opioid you were using before , be it Heroin or Hydrocodone. After you have been on it for a few months or so your doctor begins to lower your dose bit by bit. Milligram by milligram. Until you are at such a low dose that you don’t even notice when you forget to take it, and then…. Eventually, you forget to take it permanently.
Now that I am clean and sober from opioids, I want to share my story with others, in hopes that it may be of value or help someone out there who is suffering from the debilitating world of addiction. That is why I have started a weekly podcast called “Addictions“. I want to use this opportunity to take an in depth look at things and have a platform to discuss them with people. Thanks to any and all of you in advance for supporting me and the podcast. You can find the Addictions podcast on iTunes, Googleplay, Spotify, and anywhere else you find podcasts, just search your favorite podcast app or directory for the word “Addictions”. Feel free to contact me if you have ideas for topics for me to cover on future episodes, or if you just need someone to talk to. I am always willing to lend an ear.
-David, Host & Producer of “Addictions” the podcast about addictions