The Problem with Pain
In this letter I want to address a problem that not only have I encountered and gone through, but a very common one that a great multitude of people are in, have gone through, or even possibly have died while in.
The issue I am referring to, is living with pain, and especially, using pain medication. This problem is very common these days, and doctors are all too willing to enable those that are afflicted. Before I get into my own addiction to pain medication, I want to give you some background on my pain problem, how it began, its progression, and its effect on my life.
Now, I want to tell you, before I begin, that the following story is not one that I am not proud of. Yes, maybe right now I am doing good, but I could just as quickly take a nose dive back into that dark realm that I have just climbed out of. I just pray that by being totally truthful with you about what I have been through, that possibly you too, could be totally honest with yourself, and take a serious look at your own situation, and then, recalling what I have been through, you just may find a way to pull yourself out of your own hell, for no one can do it for you.
My issue with pain began in 1983, while working in Peachtree City, at an assembly and manufacturing plant that made conveyor trucks and lift trucks that were used at airports for loading baggage and cargo onto aircraft. While I was working on a vehicle frame, in the pre-assembly area, I slipped on something and fell onto my back. I hurt at the time, and reported my injury to my supervisor, but I waited for a couple of days until the pain worsened, before I sought help at a doctor’s office. I went to Dr. Hajosy in Griffin, and after some x-ray’s, I was informed that I had a condition called Spondylolisthesis, which I could have been born with, and said condition was aggravated by my accident. The doctor said that I should be fully disabled, and that he wanted to operate on my back to try to help with the problem. I indicated that I, in no way, wanted my back operated on unless I couldn’t walk, and that I would just live with the pain for now.
My back pain persisted and I sought help at Dr. Ellis chiropractic clinic. After a few days of adjustments, it seemed that my pain went away. I continued working, with occasional back pain, that I could alleviate by going to the chiropractor.
In 1983, I decided to join the Navy. I took their tests, and I qualified for the nuclear submarine job. I informed the recruiter about my prior diagnosis regarding my back, but he said that I shouldn’t mention it to anyone. I took his advise and in February, I was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Academy for my basic training. I was only in Illinois, however, for a week before I slipped on the ice and aggravated my lumbar pain. It took several days of trying to get my superiors to believe that I had some serious pain in my back before they would send me to the doctors to get checked out. The naval doctors, after threatening “my life”, when they found out I was lying, eventually saw a problem. The first doctors actually thought that my back was broken, but after the specialists looked at my x-rays, they agreed that my problem was spondylolisthesis, and that I shouldn’t have even been admitted into the Navy. I was put into a “medical hold” section, apart from the regular enlistees. I was told that I had two choices. I could spend another six months up there, and get a medical disability discharge, with benefits, or I could be discharged under what they called an, “erroneous enlistment”, meaning that they should have discovered my back problem before I was taken in, and that they never would have taken me in. This would get me out at around the same time frame that my original unit was to get out of “basic”, but I would then be entitled to nothing from the government except an “F4” rating. By then I was homesick, tired of the freezing temps, and everlasting snow and ice, I also missed my wife, whose first year anniversary I missed while in the medical hold. I told them that I just wanted to go home, and that it didn’t matter about getting disability, so that is the decision I made, and then the waiting began, for all the red tape to get done so I could get back to Georgia.
After my return and getting my back adjusted several times, I felt better and returned back into the workforce. I had several different jobs ranging from building houses, to mechanic work, but because of the heavy back work, and the bending and lifting, my back problem seemed to come back more regularly, and would take a longer time for the chiropractor to get me back in fairly pain free shape. I then began my office equipment repair occupation in 1987 at Hensley’s Office Equipment, in Griffin, Ga. This occupation seemed to work well for me. I didn’t have to do much heavy lifting, although sometimes I did have to, however this type of career choice appeared to be the best one for me.
I worked with Hensley’s from 1987 until the end of 1995, with a short stint back into mechanic work. During this time my back pain increasingly became worse, and my trips to the chiropractor became more frequent, and its soothing effects became less and less effective. As time went on I started taking codeine for the pain, or even soma’s for the muscle spasms. The orthopedic doctors didn’t want to keep prescribing pain meds unless I would let them operate, and I really didn’t want my back operated on, so I started to get meds through the “not so legal” channels. I also continued seeing the chiropractor, which started occurring on a very regular basis, around once a month or even more often.
I could deal with my pain but had started using narcotic pain meds. As time progressed, and the closer it got to 1996, I became addicted to codeine, hydrocodeine, lortabs, or any other narcotic pain medicine that I could get my hands on. My father got sick and was diagnosed with lung cancer. They operated on him, and took half of a lung out. His cancer then went wild, spreading throughout his body, in his bones, and to his heart. During his last year or so, he was at home. I lived with him and mother, due to being divorced with my wife. This turned out to be a blessing for mother, for I was able to help her take care of father, and I wound up re-married later on. My addiction, however, worsened to a point that I was stealing my father’s pain meds. I even would take prescriptions that had refills left on them and filled them for myself. This came to a head about 2 days before he died, when the guilt overwhelmed me. I confessed to mother about my problem, had her get rid of the meds that I had left, and I warned her to get rid of any other meds in the house that I might find. I had to go through three days of sickness and sweating but I came out of it and kept myself clean, at least for a short while.
Now, you would think that after taking your fathers pain meds, allowing him to think that he took way more than he actually did, being in DT’s so bad on the day that he died that you couldn’t even go to the hospital to say your goodbyes, and finally getting yourself clean, that you would never take narcotic pain meds again. Let me tell you that I thought I never would take them again. But, when dealing with pain, real, physical, tormenting pain, you will do anything to help alleviate it. And that is where my story goes next.
I was then hired by IKON Office Solutions, as a service technician. I kept myself clean, and this job became my career. I loved helping customers with their problem machines, diagnosing electronic and mechanical issues, and being the best technician IKON had, at least in my own mind. I prided myself in my technical abilities, and in the trust that my supervisors would put in me. This occupation made me happy, and I would still be there today if I hadn’t aggravated my lumbar discs again working on a very large Canon duplicator. I tried to keep working, by going back to the chiropractor again, but it came to the point that I was spending more time away from work, getting my back adjusted and resting so I could return to work, that I had to do something about my back or I would lose this job, my career, and everything I had worked for. So, after some eighteen years of dealing with my back issues, and thinking that the technology in medical orthopedics had progressed to the point that allowing the doctors to operate on my back was the wisest choice I could make, and hopefully the one that would save my career.
In April of 2001, I had my first lumbar fusion. They fused my lowest vertebra to my tailbone. After a couple of months of healing, I returned to work, and getting my strength back, I felt great. My back seemed totally better, and everything seemed to be going perfect. However, we are always reminded, that if something seems too good to be true, that it probably is, and in my case that saying proved to be correct. For, in November of 2002, my pain started back up. It was only small jolts of pain at first, but then the radiating lumbar pain came back, and I had new sciatic pain, like jolts of lightning shooting down my right leg into the calf, and in my left leg almost to the knee.
I went back to the surgeon that operated on my back, and he said that everything looked fine on the x-rays, and that it should go away. It didn’t. I pleaded with him, swearing that I still had a problem, and he then sent me to get a Cat Scan and a MRI. When those tests came back, he said that they also showed nothing wrong with my back, but I wasn’t lying and told him as much. He gave me some Oxycontin, which worked great, but then he wouldn’t refill my prescription for me. I made another appointment with him, and in tears, I swore that my pain was real, and that there had to be something else he could do that would prove I was telling him the truth. He then said that there was only one possible way, and that was to get a test called a Discogram. He explained that the test would try to duplicate my pain by using a dye and saline to “pump up” my discs, and then taking pictures of the dye to see if there were any fissures, or spider web like cracks in my discs. I was willing to try anything, so I went for that test. Let me tell you, the doctor giving you the test will know if you are lying about the pain, and I am sure that is why my doctor sent me for it, that is to prove that I was lying about the pain. I want you to know, that I have been poked and prodded, I have had multiple injections in my spine, and when you have dealt with real back pain for most of your adult life, that all of that is minor, when compared to the pain that a discogram causes someone with a real back problem.
They strap you down, so that when they pump up your discs, if you are actually having problems, you won’t jerk so bad. You can’t see what they are doing, so you don’t know when he injects your discs, but let me tell you that when they do inject you, if you don’t have a real issue, you won’t know it, but if your issue is real, the pain they are trying to duplicate is not duplicated, it is multiplied some tenfold. I was literally in tears, from the first disc, clear up to the sixth disc before he found one that didn’t cause me pain when he injected it. Now, in-between discs, during the excruciating pain, they will also inject a pain reliever into the disc to calm down the pain, but then he proceeds to the next disc, and the cycle starts all over. By the time this test was over, there was no doubt that my pain was real and that I wasn’t lying about it. The images he took showed that all of my lumbar discs were degenerative, with the lower ones fibrosed, meaning that they became hardened and full of cracks and fissures.
Finally my doctor believed me, and he then indicated that another fusion was my only option. He said that another 1 or 2-level fusion, joined with my lower fusion, should solve my problem. I said that he should go ahead and schedule the surgery, and that since I knew that even the discs above a 4-level fusion were degenerative, that I wanted him to do another 2 vertebra, making the total vertebra fused at 4, because I didn’t want to have to go through this ordeal again. One back surgery was hard to get over and the second would be at least as bad, I wasn’t going to do it a third time. He said that he would, and that if he went any further than a 4-level fusion, that I would lose a lot of mobility, so he wouldn’t go any further.
In April of 2003, I went in for my second surgery. While waiting in the pre-op area, the doctor came in, and while my anxiety was already peaked, he told me that he thought he would only fuse one more, making the total fused at three. I hit the fan, and told him that we had already discussed it, I wanted him to do two more. As he kept talking, I was getting angry, so the nurse injected me with something, but before I passed out, I told my wife to make sure that the doctor did two more, because I wasn’t going through this again, then I was out…
I was never the same after that surgery. My pain just kept increasing and the only thing the “Pain Management doctors did was to increase my pain medicine. The next six years became just a haze, with me winding up sleeping most of the time. My times of activity and awareness were just a drunken stupor. I don’t remember much of my conversations, but I have been told that I made little sense and didn’t follow conversation well, always going off on my own tangent. All through this I was still in physical pain that seemed to only get worse.
The doctor finally had me on liquid methadone, and all I remember from that time, is the monthly task of going back to the doctor for more pain meds. I slept all day, and was usually awake for a couple of hours at night. During the last couple of years I had built up a store of survival equipment, and even built some guns from kits with my youngest son, Christopher. We had taken our gun safety course together, and he desired to go hunting with Uncle Ed, I didn’t and don’t hunt, although I love me some venison. I had begin to trust Christopher’s judgment, and his concern for safety around guns, to the point that I gave him a rifle.
“Dad!!, Dad!!…Wake Up!!!, something is wrong with Christopher.”
These words yanked me out of my stupor, and I stumbled to my son’s room where Patrick was trying to push open his door, his handle stuck sometimes and Patrick had to slam into it.
I entered his room, smelling the gunpowder, which Patrick initially thought was a firecracker. On the floor, next to his bed and parallel to it, lay my son. His breathing was labored, and fading. He had a gunshot in the head, and the blood was running out. I looked and saw my son, already probably dead, gasping his last two or three breaths, with a distant look in his eyes. I could only think, “Christopher, what did you do..what did you do…”, as he faded into oblivion. My daughter in law was calling 911, and my other son just in bewilderment, standing in the living room when I looked up from Christopher. She was telling them to hurry, and I told her to let them know it was too late, that “He is gone”. I knelt on my knees next to my youngest son, who would have been 18 in just over a month, and closed his eyes. I, still in shock, examined his wound, looked at the gun I had given him that leaned next to his bed, aimed at a hole in my roof. Christopher’s hands, some distance, probably a foot and a half from the gun. Elvis Presley’s Gospel music, was playing on his CD player. Soon the room filled with Sheriff’s officers and I just sat there, then an officer said to me. “We need you to move, it’s going to get busy here real quick, this appears to be fatal.” “Duh..!! You think I don’t know he’s dead, I’m not a dumb ass, I know what dead is..”, as I raised up and walked to our front porch, where I sat in a daze. I never heard the gunshot. An AK-47 firing inside my home some 30 feet from where I lay sleeping, never roused my sleep.
The next couple of days were filled with flurries of people, and places to go. What I remember most is the coroner visiting us to tell us that they ruled it a “Suicide”. We all were floored for we knew Christopher, he was happy, and as an adult, beginning to hang out with the adults and loving his newfound maturity. He was somewhat introverted, as was I as a teen. He loved learning about God, this universe, Jesus, and was even teaching other friends many of the things that I teach and had taught him over the years. The Sheriff’s asked many times who had moved the gun, but no one had touched it. They couldn’t understand why it was leaning on the bed, and Christopher’s hand far from it. And because of that, we hold on to the hope that it was an accident, and not intentional, and that God knew his heart, and what a good soul he was. Although, I do believe that suicide is not the unpardonable sin that the Catholic church, and others so assume it to be.
The next couple of months found me still the same, in constant pain, up and about only two times, getting my “Pain Meds!!”. I just wanted to sleep and not have to face the grief my family was going through. I ran out of my medication early, and for three days had to do without, all the while my pain levels went off the chart. I couldn’t hardly move, I couldn’t lay, I couldn’t stand, sit or walk. Nothing could touch my pain. Then, the day I was going back to the doctor, when I opened my eyes, I just got mad, and told myself that I wasn’t going back to the doctor. I couldn’t believe what had happened to my son, and felt totally responsible, and still do to an extent. I was so furious with my, “Physical Self”, that my, “Spiritual Self”, kicked me in the ass and said that he was taking over, and that he wouldn’t be ruled by the physical needs that I “thought” I needed, i.e. Pain Meds.
The problem with managing pain, is that its extremely difficult to not let the pain rule you. You have to look deep within, to the spiritual you, and mentally conquer what your physical self won’t allow you to do, and that is, to not take mans narcotic pain medicine unless you are dying from pain, literally, and I don’t even want to do it then.
The next two weeks, “Oh, My God..” Not only did I have to deal with the most excruciating pain I had ever been through, I was having audio, visual, even touch hallucinations. I could block them out for the most part during the day, but at night, my world exploded with sounds, sights, flashes, shocks that reverberated throughout my whole body. I could not sleep, and didn’t for a month and a half, which made the hallucination problem worse. I might could have, and probably should have went to the doctor, where he could wean me off of the meds, but I was still so mad, that I determined that if it killed me, I didn’t care, having to do this cold turkey or not, I wasn’t going back to the pain clinic. At the end of the first two weeks, I was having constant cramps, with one leg jumping uncontrollably. When I heard music, I could feel the frequency of the sound waves as electric pulses shocking the soles of my feet as the music played loudly in my sons room. This was in the spring, so I felt that the high humidity was for some reason playing a part, I even had to keep my feet off the floor, for I felt literal shocks of electricity shocking me during a storm. Eventually my leg cramps and jerking so frustrated me that I told my wife to call 911. She suggested, that we try to get in the truck and go, but I was adamant, to the point that I blurted out, “If you won’t call them, just give me my gun..” Now I didn’t mean it, but, I couldn’t move, and my leg cramps and jerks caused excruciating pain, not to mention my back pain that never went away. She called them, and they had to carry me to the gurney, and tie my legs down. After a night in the hospital, lots of fluids, high doses of potassium, more wild hallucinations about some cartoon characters that were on TV, and through the threats of the doctor sending me somewhere for rehab because of my request for a gun, I finally went home with a feeling of lucidity about me that I hadn’t felt in many years.
It’s now been over two years since my son died, and since I quit all the pain medicine I was on. I am in daily pain, that never goes away, and depending on what I do gets extremely bad. Yet I still, thanks to the Grace of God, am narcotic free, and I deal much better with pain than I ever could while taking the meds.
Fighting pain, and pain medicine addiction, cant be done in the physical. The problem with pain is that it in itself, is a deception, a lie that is straight from the pits of hell. For it deceives you when you are taking pain meds, causing your need for more and more medicine essential for you to feel the same level of comfort. You have to get it out of your mind, that if you just had a little more, that you can feel a little better. Satan wants you to fail in this fight, for if he can keep you down, in a stupor of pain medicine induced slothfulness, then you won’t be productive for God’s kingdom. I truly believe, that as a desire of Satan to shut me up, that he arranged the events that culminated in my son, Christopher Robert Robinson : 2/25/91 – 1/22/09, to either take his own life, or to suffer this horrendous accident, which ever is truth. Satan wanted me to continue down my path of narcotic abuse, but God saw me out of it, and I am now “Shoving truth’s down Satan’s throat..” and will continue to do so as long as Jesus would have me. No I am not perfect, and I can’t tell you how many times I have desired to go back to the doctor and legally get some relief, but I owe it to Christopher, not to.
You also, owe it to your family, friends, and loved ones. Don’t wait until it is too late, or until something tragic happens in your life to conquer any addiction. Many things in our life can be addictive, but “In Christ”, we can be conquerors. The road is not easy, and even for me it is a daily fight, but I am trusting God and Christ to help me through.
This is my story, I humbly put this out there for the world to read, in the hopes that someone reads it, and is changed for the better for it.
“Keep the upward look, for our redemption draweth nigh.”