Facing surgery as a former addict, and the importance of finding the right healer

I keep getting notifications that I haven’t written here in a while… and I’ve had some messages from you over the last six months… so I should probably write a bit and let you know that all is well with my husband — because my last post here was written when we went to the emergency room last spring.

Facing surgery as a former addict

Turns out Dave’s gall bladder was very unhappy, it took many months for doctors to figure it out, treating him instead for severe acid reflux. When they did figure it out, he had surgery. In addition to removing his gall bladder, the surgeon took a liver biopsy. All tests came back negative, and he has recovered well.

If you are very familiar with prescription drug addiction, you probably wonder how post-surgical pain management went. For anyone who’s been addicted to pain pills, major injuries and surgery are minefields — even after years of continuous sobriety. Some people don’t understand that… maybe they have more self-control than I do.

I have a weakness for dark chocolate with almonds and cherries in it. I can’t just have a tiny bite and walk away knowing a whole bar is waiting in the cupboard… And chocolate’s power is nothing and utterly ridiculous to compare to a real drug.

You do what you have to do to keep from going back there again

We learned some good, hard things through this experience, and I will tell that story soon, but I think it’s important to tell you two things: Dave ended up staying overnight in the hospital (it was supposed to be outpatient surgery) so they could manage his pain and avoid sending him home with a bottle of narcotics — and it worked.

Recovery was slower, at first, without the powerful pain meds everyone else in the nation gets as a matter of course — but that was a good thing in the long run.

Prior to surgery, people told us their experiences of pain pills being too effective and jumping back into life before their bodies were ready for them to do so and doing long-term damage to their bodies (I did it myself after my last c-section almost 15 years ago and I still feel it almost every day.)

Refusing pain meds post surgery may not be a good idea, but you probably don’t need as powerful a drug — or as much as is usually prescribed (ask your doctor)

Pain pills mask your healing body’s need for rest and tend to give you a false sense of ability — which means we often do far too much post-surgery than we should.

We are grateful Dave had the option of using paid sick leave in order to recover properly without the stress and worry about how we’d get by. I know this isn’t possible for a whole lot of — maybe most — people. It wasn’t possible for us before now.

But research shows we’d have less of a pain pill problem [which has in turn fueled the heroin problem] in this country if we allowed people time to heal — if adequate paid sick leave post-surgery was mandatory for employers.

The right healer makes all the difference

Speaking of stress, the whole thing  — pain, surgery, post-surgery — was terribly stressful. We’ve seen former addicts fall hard because of one outpatient surgery — even after years of sobriety.

I’m grateful for our surgeon’s vigilance, for all the friends who prayed specifically about pain management, and for the hospital staff who took care of him (though we had to tell our life story a dozen times because so many aren’t educated on the addictive properties of Tramadol, Dave’s former drug of choice & unfortunately our hospital’s go-to for pain). It was rough.

I’ve learned how important it is to find the right people when you’re seeking healing. They are the ones who listen well, treat your concerns seriously, and don’t turn immediately to the easiest, cheapest, most common course of action. This is why decent affordable care and patient rights are critical to curbing the epidemic of drug addiction in our country, but that’s for another post. Lock ’em up, as a strategy, has failed.

It’s hard to find the right people. When I was sick myself a few years back, I went to more than a dozen doctors over a couple of years before getting the right diagnosis.

I knew I’d found the right doctor when the first question out of her mouth was “Has anyone done an ultrasound of ___?” No one had even suggested it, but after the ultrasound, we had the answer.

Dave persisted over and over with one doctor who sent him out to specialists and eventually put the puzzle pieces together for his gall bladder diagnosis.

Be ready to push back

Some of us are prone to settling.

It goes against our nature to push back, ask questions, to insist, or to press for a different way. We’d rather not go at all than try again and again until we find the right fit. Plus, it costs money. We’re forced to choose what is both inexpensive and most expedient.

A wise friend told me recently that it’s important to remember medicine is a practice. But it’s also important to find the right healer.

Last week, The New England Journal of Medicine published an article about a study done on Opioid-Prescribing Patterns of Emergency Physicians and Risk of Long-Term Use.

Get answers, or get a second opinion

Researchers discovered that even within the same hospital, doctors prescribe differently. Some immediately go to pain medication, some don’t. They learned that “the intensity of a physician’s opioid prescribing was positively associated with the probability that a patient would become a long-term opioid user over the subsequent 12 months.”

What this says to me is that it’s more important than ever to be aware of your options for pain management. Find a doctor who wants to find answers for your pain, not just treat your pain with a bottle of pills. You have options.

***

Read more about the study here.

 

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