Making changes

In the event it could be helpful to someone else in a similar situation, let me “share” my experience with weaning off oxycodone so far. I’m not all the way there yet and the home stretch could be the really hard part.

It depends, really, how many challenges you undertake at the same time, I suppose.

My situation is, that un-diagnosed scoliosis, over many years developed into degenerative disc disease.

The first time my back troubled me was when I was thirteen. It would have been better if I had not spent my early life dragging around heavy suitcases…no wheels back then!

Even when I wasn’t doing that, I seemed always to be shifting heavy items around, furniture, pets, books. I don’t remember how many times I moved.

To top it off, I had some fairly spectacular falls, impacting my spine. They surely didn’t help.

So, by age 58, I could only stand for ten minutes at a time and I couldn’t do my job properly, as it involved a lot of standing and running around.

Off I went to consult a spine specialist.

He was a cold, unfeeling man who, unsympathetically told me that I had “the spine of a very much older woman”, that there was nothing to be done. I would have to live with it.

Those words were not unfamiliar. Aged 40, I was told nothing could be done about herniated discs in my neck.

The Pain Management physician was much kinder. I inquired whether the surgeon I had consulted, in the same practice, was thought to be conservative and I got a smile.

Pain Management offered epidural injections.

The initial epidural worked well, for ten days, but the second had no effect. I asked for a worst case scenario and was told I could end up in “unremitting, unmanageable pain.”

It was time for a second opinion. Which is how I came to have a multi-level spinal fusion and laminectomy.

After 13 days I was discharged from hospital and began the long recovery, but I suddenly developed excruciating leg pain that sent me back to the hospital, to have the whole structure replaced. That was when I got nerve damage.

It was never suggested that I should wean off the pain medication after that, so I became dependent on oxycodone. This was in 2007. I took early retirement after 38 years.

It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had fought depression all my adult life. I was alone and I thought if I didn’t work for the airline, I would lose whatever identity I had.

In effect, I should become a nobody. “Ex-BA” doesn’t count for very much.

So I took on the persona of Cat Person.

Cat Person on oxy and anti-depressants. Fabulous combo!

Did you know that these combinations of drugs can precipitate you into doing un-wise things?

Like buying an enormous house and filling it with cats.

My attempt at joining a local cat rescue ended badly when I discovered that the owner was a hoarder.

So I teamed up with Grant, who I had met at the failed rescue, and I ran my own foster-home, thus fulfilling my lifetime promise that I would one day help animals, no matter the cost.

For someone with separation anxiety, it was a foolish undertaking and the personal cost was high.

Each one of those cats took a piece of my heart with it.

But I had a tiny bit of land and wild animals that needed it, as their territory was being eroded everywhere.

It was the constant development all around me that prompted me, in 2018, to abandon Washington State and return to New York which had been “home”, previously.

Only years of psycho-therapy and medication gave me the will to continue with any of these activities.

After my father died, I was finally able to untie the mess that my life was. Lots of tears, lots of medication and always the oxy and the lorazepam.

Underneath all the medication, who really was Carolyn Smith? This is why, when my new PCP told me he required that I should wean off the oxy, I decided it was time.

Having once been placed in oxy-withdrawal by a neglectful hospital, I was daunted, to say the least, but I was promised that I could be weaned, gently, with the assistance of an experienced pharmacist.

Typically, when I am set a task, I want to get on with it, to see it through and this is no different, so I quickly cut back from 5mg 5 times a day, to 4 then, 3 then 2.5.

In the meantime I met with Pain Management and agreed to try again the steroid epidural injection.

That sort of procedure has never bothered me and I confess I was not expecting to be quite so flattened by it as I was yesterday.

But it was probably my own fault.

By cutting back the oxy as I did, I had subjected myself to some degree of anxiety and I had begun to have really bad headaches.

When I had the injection on Tuesday morning, I was told to drink plenty of caffeinated fluid, to avoid headache, but I had one to start with.

It developed into an absolute winner that kept me awake the whole of Tuesday’s long night.

The recommendation is to lie flat but this did nothing for me and it didn’t help that I had cats wanting to pin me down!

(Mrs Quail was one of the creatures who visited in Washington State.)

The effect of oxy-withdrawal and steroid epidural hit me like a steam roller. My head felt as if it had been used overnight for soccer practice and I couldn’t find anything that would help.

Headaches are something I have dealt with all my life, but this was like something occupying my skull that didn’t belong and it throbbed.

I was one sorry mess.

The instructions said to call Pain Management in the case of headache, but I had had it before the procedure, and what were they going to say?

In the end, under pressure from Grant, I did call, but had to leave a message, which has yet to be acknowledged.

(Ornament containing ashes and pictures of all the cats that I lost over the years. Did I say I have separation issues?)

What fixed me, in the end? A bag of frozen mixed vegetables that I applied to my head, face and neck. I had been lying on my bed in the afternoon, for the first time in over three years, thinking (thinking and doing are not the same) suicide thoughts. All I could think about was how awful everything is in the World today and what is the point of enduring so much pain to end up dead anyway? Self-pity thoughts.

But the bag of frozen vegetables brought me back.

Today things have normalized, I guess, since I am once more writing my blog. I can’t say that I feel great, but my brain today is only bruised, not brutalized. It’s containable.

What all of this diatribe will do for anyone, I’m not quite sure, but when I have been badly troubled and looking for anything that will help, I have often found that reading about other people’s battles has made me feel less of a loser. If other people have similar angst, maybe I am not such an odd-ball, maybe I am not so alone.

6 thoughts on “Making changes

  1. Oh Carolyn, you are so very far way from being a loser! You are amongst the bravest people I can imagine. Pain can suck the life right out of you and yet you are still writing beautifully, taking lovely photos, and caring for your kitties and outdoor wildlife! That describes a winner, not a loser.
    Best wishes for continued progress with the new medicine protocol and thank you for the mixed vegetables tip. I’m going to stock up ready for my next bout with headaches.

  2. I am happy for you that you found the improvised cold pack was helpful! I do hope you will be able to tolerate the weaning process. As they say, aging ain’t for sissies.

  3. I’m so sorry that you got the dreaded spinal headache that is always warned about with the ESIs. Maybe it was so much worse because you are stepping down on your oxy. I hope you are over the worst of it and that the injection gives you some relief.

    I love the picture of the mommy possum with her babies on her back. I have never been fortunate enough to see that.

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