A small wrinkle in the way he held his head was the only open betrayal of his condition. The many colored papers he was studying were laid out in piles as he moved from one to the other, scouring each for some kind of clue. His serious but friendly face, rounded in a kind of smile, rarely looked up. It wasn’t until we had been at the bar for some time that we started chatting, innocently at first.
He gave his name as John, and slowly started talking about his mission. He had just been to a pain management clinic at the hospital, and there in front of him were all the secrets that help him shove his life, if not his back, into order once again. The car accident had done its damage, but pill after pill the magic that was supposed to help him cope had its own price. Liz and I listened intently because a slipped disk in her back had given her the same bottles that rattled in her purse and through her nerves.
This is the world of powerful prescription drugs, a world far too many people enter but can’t leave. John was working his way out, but just as he must hobble through life with a cane he first needed something else to lean on before he could ditch the pills.
For Liz, the journey started with a sharp pain that came on for almost no reason at all. After a few days it became clear it wasn’t going away, so an appointment was made at the after-hours clinic, the only place she could get into the same day. Hardly stopping to look at her, a prescription for Vicodin was written and that was that. Call us if it doesn’t get better in two weeks.
It didn’t get better. It got worse over the next few days.
Most people would just pop the Vicodin and hope for the best. When that failed to materialize, maybe another little pill. And another. In a short time the bottle might be gone, but it would be easy to get another. A serious addiction might result even as the pain didn’t go anywhere.
Liz knew better, and I did my part to watch carefully what was happening. As it got worse she finally got into a regular doctor who knew immediately what was happening and got her on a course that seemed to repair the damage, not just dull the pain. The magic pills would not be called on as she braved the pain and learned to manage it the best she can.
This particular evening, the story John told was exactly what she needed. The universe has a way of providing what anyone needs if they pay attention. There are ways of treating the underlying condition, managing the pain, and making a few adjustments here and there that aren’t too onerous.
Yet that is not what the medical establishment often provides people with chronic pain. It gives them pills with incredible addictive power that dull mind and body. For many people, they might as well give them a loaded pistol.
John is a very strong and brave man who stumbled down this path without realizing where it went. After years of limping along he was getting the help he needed, but only after he insisted that there had to be a better way. There, in front of him, were some answers that would help him get back to where he knew he needed to be – away from the magic pills with the high toll on spirit and flesh. He could reduce and manage the pain without them. Liz listened to his story and, having balked at the easy path, can take the right one instead. What the medical establishment didn’t provide her a chance encounter at a bar one cold evening did.
Is this really any kind of health care?