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Friday, August 31, 2007

Is Earl a Vicodin Addict?


Well, all right, there's more to the story than that. As the faithful readers of this blog (Thanks for that Oprah) know, I've only just recovered from a herinated disc in my neck. It's not a serious, serious injury, and despite the name, no truss was needed for repairs. The Littlest Fando suffered quite a bit more in a couple of days in hospital this summer than I did in the month and a fortnight I did with the disc. However, it is still a very uncomfortable, yes, painful injury at times.

I've never fancied myself a wimp where pain was concerned. Like most people with their mental faculties, David Blaine aside, I don't particularly enjoy pain. However, I've generally been able to deal with it as it comes. I ran cross-country in school for goodness sakes. I wasn't fast, but I was dogged, endured, and left a pint of sweat on the course.*

The problem with injuries involving the spine, as I've discovered, is that there's really no place you can put your spine up for a bit of a rest. If you injure your leg, you can have a sit down and prop the thing up whilst you enjoy a cuppa or a nice book. If you injure your arm, you can throw it in a sling, find a comfy chair, and change the personal CD player with your good arm. If you injure your spine, your arms and legs tell you "the hell with it, you're on your own." This is because they take orders from the spine.

Well, they really take orders from the brain, but as anyone who's had a moderately troublesome spine injury can tell you, the spine frequently rewrites those on the way down. In my case the spine instructed my right shoulder, forearm, and hand to squeeze bloody hell out of the nerve endings there, and like the good little servile appendages they are, they obeyed with all the cold, ruthless efficiency of the Wermacht.

In my recent experience, the only way to truly deal with this kind of spine-affiliated pain is to do one of two things:
  • Sit in whatever ridiculous position that manages to cut off the backstabbing (no pun intended) little nerve endings making your life a living hell.

  • Drugs

I tried the first solution for about 5-6 hours the Tuesday this thing fully hit me. Unfortunately, the only position I could think of was a fetal ball, holding my wretched right arm with my completely comfortable left one, which, after years of playing second banana, was clearly enjoying the newfound advantage.

After a visit to the doctor, I was prescribed Celebrex and muscle relaxants. These had all the effect a gnat would against a Bengal Tiger in an extreme fighting death match. The arm and shoulder pain ate the Celebrex like it was green Shrek M&Ms. Unfortunately, I could only take one every 12 hours.

I endured this for approximately 20 hours before deciding that it was either ask for something stronger or chew my arm off. Since I've never really fancied the taste of my own flesh, and since chewing through my own shoulder blade wasn't really likely to decrease the pain, I called the doctor's office again. This time, they prescribed Tylenol with Hydrocodeine.

Now, I've had codeine before and it was always a bit of a muddle. The pain would always diminish or vanish, but on the other hand, I'd spend much of the time unconscious and experiencing the kind of dreams that would have made Salvador Dali give up Surrealism and take up chartered accountancy.

Nonetheless, I was at my wit's end and my lovely wife, Mrs. Fando, proceed to nip down to the chemist and procure the stuff. 20 minutes after taking the first one, I felt my nerves go all happy from my brain to the tips of my toes. It was the first relief in 26 hours or so. They said I could take one up to 6-8 hours apart as needed for pain. Actually, I only took them 8 hours apart, as any type of drug gives me a serious case of paranoia that I'll end up in a Deadheads fan club smoking reefer and wondering what Jerry would be doing right now if he hadn't snuffed it.**

I regularly took it for about two to three weeks, as it was the only thing to deal with the pain in a way that made life manageable. I was more concerned with figuring out what was causing the pain than what was minimizing it, but in the back of my mind I wondered how long I could continue to take it.

Still, it was just Tylenol with a bit of hydrocodeine in it. So, what's the harm? That was my attitude until I needed a refill and called the clinic to get the prescription updated. After confirming it with the doctor, which took a day or so and was punctuated by some irritation on my part that I would be back to feeding my pain more useless Celebrex, the nurse called back and informed me that I could go and get my Vicodin when I was ready.

I calmly informed the nurse that I wasn't taking Vicodin, I was taking Tylenol with Hydrocodeine. She put me on hold to check with the doctor. Whilst I waited, I hummed to myself, in a sort of grimacing way - due to some lingering pain, and thought, "Vicodin? Wow, I'm glad I caught that. Vicodin's that stuff people get hooked on and wind up in treatment centres for."

About that time, the nurse came back and calmly informed me that Tylenol with Hydrocodeine and Vicodin were one in the same drug.

After I picked the phone back up again, I gave it about 10 seconds thought and refilled the prescription. Pain is pain, you know.

Fortunately, I was only taking what I needed for pain and no more. Opiate-based drugs are all laced with some measure of risk, but sensibly used as the prescription indicates, one can very easily avoid winding up smoking a pipe in a Shanghai den of very quiet, smoke-addled, dazed-looking Vicodin fiends. I stopped using the drug as soon as I thought I could, and with one exception, the night the family and I went to see Becoming Jane, I haven't taken any since.***

It probably helped that I surfed the Internet for an hour or so, looking for information on Vicodin and coming up with innumerous links to treatment centres. It sort of got the old bean thinking I might be keen to wean myself from the stuff at the earliest opportunity. I suppose it's all a bit of a balancing act, between pain management and winding up in the Robert Downey Jr. wing of the Betty Ford Clinic. Tricky that, but I seem to have some through it all right. It probably helps that as the underlying pain subsides, the one overwhelming feeling the drug gives me is of a creeping nausea. A nice advantage that.

* I never actually measured this. It's an educated guess.
** The answer to this question is invariably, "A whole lotta hash, man."
*** I wasn't taking the drugs because of the film. At least, I don't remember that being the reason.


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