Today I’m semi-voluntarily undergoing withdrawal from hydrocodone, otherwise known as the big, bad, EEEEEVUL Vicodin.
Why am I on it in the first place? Because of chronic pain caused by a car accident two and a half years ago. I’ve tried many other medications; this, the lowest-level narcotic painkiller, is the only one that’s ‘worked’ without horrendous side effects.
‘Worked’ has to go in quotes, you see, because it doesn’t kill the pain. It just makes it possible for me to get through my day. But tolerance keeps building up, so I have to take as absolutely little as I can manage. Most of my weekdays are spent in bed because that aggravates my pain the least. I take my kid to and from school, I do the grocery shopping, and I lie in bed doing what art and writing I can, when the pain is low enough that I can still think. That’s my week.
I see my doctor once a month for a new prescription, because she won’t give me one with refills. (To be honest, I’m unclear if this is her policy, the hospital’s policy, or state law. My impression is that it’s the hospital.)
Last month the one person in her office who knows how to work the computer was out, so I had to have my husband call in to make my next appointment. By the time he got through to the office (which is incredibly hard to reach by phone) their next available appointment was 6 weeks after the last one. He pointed out that I would run out of my medication before then, and they said they’d see what they could do. Of course we then heard nothing.
I tried to stretch it out. I did. Some days I can get away with only taking two pills instead of three; my pain levels vary with my activity level (hint to the ignorantly “helpful”: more activity doesn’t help my pain, it makes it worse), the weather, my stress level, and my nutrition. Some of those things are under my control. Some of them, like the fact that I have a very active child that I *must* be medicated to deal with for more than ten minutes at a stretch, are not. And October was a busy month for us; lots of travel, which also jacks everything up.
So here I am, more than a week before my next appointment with my doctor, and I have three days of pills left; four if I stretch it. My poor husband has been trying to get ahold of my doctor all day, but right now I’m still in limbo. So I’ve not taken a pain pill in just over 24 hours.
I could wait until I’m completely out, I suppose, before inflicting this on myself. Then I wouldn’t have a choice, which might make it easier. But doing it now accomplishes a few things.
First of all, I remind myself that I’m not an addict*, even if I am experiencing physical symptoms. The remaining pills are within view from where I write this, and I don’t feel a temptation; if anything, I’m repulsed by them. I hate the fact that I need them to function. I hate that I’m going to have to take one in an hour before I go pick up my kid from school, just to be able to drive safely. It’s a dependency – a medical requirement for a thing in order to function normally – and that shouldn’t be pathologized the way it is.
Second, I keep a safety net if something happens that I must respond to, and I need the medication to make my body work. Certainly if I have no new medication by the time the weekend rolls around and my kid is home for 63 hours in a row, I will need it. I will hate it, but I’ll use it, because I do everything I can to have this hell impact my kid as little as possible.
Third, the knowledge that I did exercise some degree of control over this process is really the only thing getting me through it.
I suppose in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. Some fever, chills and sweating, a wretched headache. Oh, and the unmitigated PAIN that is the reason for me being on this drug at all. I have the luxury of being able to take this day – hell, this week – off to deal with it, for all that it drives me up a wall to be so useless.
*I should add that it is not my intention to speak badly or misleadingly of addiction (something I have relatively little personal experience with), rather to point out that it’s not what is going on here. Society is so terrified of addiction that it treats it as a moral failing, and punishes anyone who might have any of the qualities of an addict (like chronic pain patients!). This helps nobody, spreads the culture of fear surrounding narcotic medication, and makes those of us who genuinely need it have to figure out how to handle it on our own, centimeter by bloody centimeter.
Date: October 27, 2010