Today I was accused of trafficking in drugs. Today I was accused of being a junkie. Today I was drug tested, to prove I wasn’t a liar. Today I understood exactly why we have a heroin problem in this country.
“Don’t go there, it will mess you up, like mentally, it makes you feel ashamed to even be alive.” That was the quote I read on the support group/forum I’d Googled about Pain Clinics. I’ve had chronic migraines since I was 7 along with a myriad of other health issues. However, it wasn’t until I ruptured a disc in the lower portion of my spine that I sought a special clinic at my neurosurgeon’s request. L3-L4 meant nothing to me. What mattered was I’d been careless. I’d lunged and grabbed the world’s fattest cat from the floor to give him his eye medication and just like that, my leg went excruciatingly numb.
Today I wondered if they would have cared more if my origin story had been better. Replace fat cat with pushed a nun out of traffic. Would they have treated me differently? More like a person? What if they had known I was missing my great Aunt’s funeral right now, because I was warned to NEVER cancel a pain clinic appointment. It looks suspicious. Not advice from the forum, but from the nurse at my surgeons office. I sat in the waiting room with my Mom. It was small, and very hot. I’d had an MRI yesterday and since I am severely allergic to the dye, they had pre-treated me with IV medications all day. I was still nauseous and flushed. I looked around the tiny room. Two women in their 50’s. A young, well dressed black man. A redneck who wouldn’t stop yelling at the TV, he was a big fan of the woman from Blind Spot. I went to a different Pain Clinic when I first hurt my back six months ago. Hoping to forgo the stigma of pain medication I’d gotten an injection in my spine. It had only made matters worse. In January they did surgery, but the pain remained.
An hour past my appointment, they called my name. In the entryway, next to the waiting room they took my weight. With the door hanging open, everyone could see. I was a big girl, luckily I’d let that type of embarrassment go in grade school. I was escorted to a room with my Mom.
Today I was given a survey. It had 0 questions about my pain. This was an opioid survey. Some of the questions were:
How often do you depend on others for opioid medication?
How often do you share your opioid medication?
Rather ridiculous questions to me since I was in such horrendous pain, I wouldn’t share the pain pills I had been given with a nun who had been hit by a bus.
A resident came in, or a PA, I’m not sure to be honest. She was very young, not the magical doctor my surgeon had referred me to, she was only here to gather information. I began my six month tale of woe. She stumbled over my timeline; I tried to straighten it out. I wondered why it was so hard to keep a chart. I suddenly remembered my chart from my pediatrician, long before computers. It was two inches thick and worn with age (I was sick a lot) but it had my story in it.
Today I wondered what happened to my story. Why was it ok for the computer to freeze, for the woman to say “I think I understand, that’s good enough.” And leave to “brief” the doctor. What on earth was she going to brief her on? We had never seemed to be on the same page.
Finally the Dr. arrived. She should have been a dentist, she had perfect teeth. I think I might have had faith in her as a dentist. We again attempted to sort this past six months out. She said the radiologist report from yesterday did not note another disc herniation. But she wasn’t a surgeon, and I trusted him more than radiologists. The timeline, the injection, the surgery, and yes they had given me oxycodone. Did I think that dosage was high? Did I think I should have it in the first place? Yes, I suppose. I was in pain, my Dad has been sick again. The pills allowed me to sit in ER’s and surgical suites with him. It allowed me to go to Wal-Mart with my Mom. It seemed necessary to me. She looked at me like that was a foolish answer.
Today I wondered if needing to be there for my parents, and wanting to leave my house was a foolish reason to be at this Clinic.
She was all over the map. We need to see what the surgeon says. Perhaps my fibromyalgia was to blame for this pain (but there had been a disc, how could it be the fibro?) You might benefit from a spinal cord stimulation implant; I can give you a DVD all about it! We can’t really do anything until we hear from your surgeon. I will refill your pain medication. Have you ever thought of going to group therapy for your pain?
Today I realized I can listen to a woman talk and visualize smashing her head into a wall.
My time was done, and so you’d think, was my tale. But it isn’t the end. I was shuffled back to the busy entryway, next to the scale. They took a picture of my frustrated, confused, weary face for their “database.”
Today I imagined turning that database into an art exhibit entitled: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.
I had to sign contracts. I wouldn’t sell the drugs, I wouldn’t lose the drugs, I wouldn’t share the drugs. I would take them exactly as prescribed. Another contract, no I’m not pregnant, no I won’t drink alcohol, yes I will tell someone if my mental status changes. Sign and initial below that I understand this Dr. may stop treating me at her sole discretion if they believe I broke this contract.
Today I understood how Faust must have felt. I had surely just signed my soul away. Because it certainly didn’t feel like I’d entered into an agreement with someone intending to help me.
I was on my way out when they hesitated in handing me my prescription. “Did we make you pee for us?” I hesitated, “No.” The sweet nurse who had been kind enough not to announce my weight at the beginning came to escort me to the bathroom. I was dreading this part, only because with my back hurting as it was, twisting and getting the urine in a cup can be difficult. The nurse offered me a small bucket to put in the toilet to catch my sample so I didn’t have to struggle. I almost started to cry. Only because this small act felt like the kindest thing anyone in the office had done for me since I got there. We walked to the bathroom, only this office didn’t have a bathroom. I had to walk into the main hospital, past the same day surgery waiting room, past the elevators, and produce my drug test urine sample in the public bathroom. I was bewildered. I wondered what everyone passing me thought. Finally I passed the test and was given my things and could go.
Today I realized people have everything so backwards. I am educated; I know there is a drug problem in this country. I read the stories, I get it. But holding the addiction, essentially the ACTIONS, of another person against me is WRONG. How is that different than taking away someone’s license because another person drives drunk. Today I had to prove I wasn’t a criminal before I could request help. In what other case would that be ok? The Dr. had all the power, and I was at her mercy.
Waiting for the elevator, my mother’s eyes were saucers. “I can’t believe everything that just happened today.”
I was feeling a range of emotions. Anger, weariness, embarrassment, somehow violated and INCREDIBLY unsafe. I never wanted to come back to this clinic. I didn’t even want to come back to this hospital for my appointment with the surgeon next week.
Without thinking I held the scripts up and said, “I think they just showed me first hand why people turn to heroin on street corners instead of seeking out doctors.” I didn’t realize the well dressed black man from the waiting room had walked up behind me. His voice caught me off guard.
“Yep, that’s what they do to you here.”
We rode the elevator down together. He wished me luck and told me to have a blessed day.
I was too tired and in too much pain to go to my Aunts wake. I sent my mother on without me.
Today was a nightmare. Today was a day I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Today was unacceptable.