by Emily Warner
I’m a 57-year-old mom, grandma, and sister.
I suffer from chronic pain from what my doctors referred to as a “life-changing” bike accident. Little did I know how much damage that bicycle accident in January of 2011 would do, not only physically but emotionally and cognitively. I had started riding my bike three months earlier and found this freedom and peacefulness in my new activity. I took safety seriously and always wore a helmet.
On that Saturday afternoon, I told my husband I was going for a ride in the neighborhood. I was going down a hill at about 25 mph and while trying to cross the street, I turned around to make sure there were no cars and lost control of my bike. I fell directly onto the pavement on my right elbow, sustaining a crushed elbow with my lower arm bone sticking out of the back of my arm.
I also dislocated my collarbone. I was in shock. My arm was bleeding and I couldn’t feel my lower right arm and I couldn’t lift it. My husband soon arrived on the scene and after seeing the look of fear on his face, I knew things were bad. As the ambulance arrived, I begged Dan to
take me to the hospital. He told me I needed to ride in the ambulance and he’d meet me at the hospital.
As I was loaded up in the ambulance, they started an IV with morphine
It didn’t really touch my pain but I think I just zoned out. A skeletal trauma specialist was called and later that night I underwent a four-hour surgery to put my elbow back together. I spent three days in the hospital and went home with prescription for hydrocodone 10/325 mg. I started physical therapy and tried to fight through the pain without the hydrocodone, and used as little as possible. The orthopedic surgeon gave me a one month supply and said I didn’t want to take it beyond that
time. I wholeheartedly agreed.
About a year later, while still undergoing myofascial release/physical therapy, my pain was tolerable but progressed to almost unbearable as the day went on. My husband found a rheumatologist who told us that I didn’t need to live in pain. He prescribed Norco and a few months later added Fentanyl patches. He also gave me a muscle relaxer. It felt great to not be in physical pain.
My husband had a stroke in February of 2014 and died two days later
I’m not sure if he thought I was addicted to my pain medications at the time of his death but he was happy that my pain was controlled. He also started doing the grocery shopping and encouraged me to just stay home. I had undergone a couple of surgeries before his death to remove some of the metal and always had plenty of pain medication. I never took more than prescribed and on some days, took less.
After my husband’s sudden death at the age of 53, I was grief-stricken. I sought help from a psychiatrist and therapist. My psychiatrist gave me Xanax for use during the day and Klonopin to help me sleep at night. I had no idea I was on a deadly cocktail of prescription medications.
My doctors surely had to know it. I was on five dangerous medications at the same time.
In 2016, I became a grandmother and helped to take care of my newborn grandson while on those dangerous medications. I drove all over. I found peace in driving around and listening to music. I am lucky I didn’t hurt or kill myself, my grandson, or another person.
I had no idea I was addicted to this toxic mix of medications, but the people around me knew something was wrong but knew I was still reeling from my husband’s death and didn’t want to say anything. In thinking back, there were signs, but I made excuses. I staggered at times but I blamed that on being clumsy. I fell asleep easily, including while talking on the phone. Friends and family say I slurred my words. They were all too afraid to confront me. My biggest excuse was that it was prescription medication so it was necessary.
In September of 2018, my sister came to visit
My grandson was almost two and I was still helping to care for him while my son and daughter-in-law worked. My sister’s visit that weekend was a turning point. She saw in person what had become of me. My personality was gone, I was clumsy, I slurred my words, and after riding home with me from the airport she decided she would drive the rest of the weekend. She asked me what I was taking and why I was taking so much.
That Sunday night, my son came over and told me he and his wife could not leave me alone with my grandson until I got off my medications. He asked me what I was on and he was shocked at the amount of medication I was taking. My sister had talked to him and they decided together that I needed an intervention. He said it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
My life was out of control.
I decided to stop my medications on my own
My son and I looked up how to get off what I was taking. I was ready to go to rehab if I needed to, but I was determined to do it myself. I stopped the Fentanyl and muscle relaxant cold turkey but took several weeks to wean off the hydrocodone. I was getting help from my internist and an anti-opiate pain management doctor.
I detoxed from the Fentanyl over ten days with the help of Xanax. I then slowly weaned off and took my last hydrocodone on November 30th, 2018. I definitely experienced “dopesickness”. It wasn’t easy and I felt like I had the flu for several weeks. I took my last Xanax on January 6th, 2019. I have weaned off the Klonopin.
Today, I’m present in my own life again
My personality is back. I laugh easy and often. I am helping to take care of my grandson again and the love and laughter he and I share is life- affirming. I see an addictions therapist weekly. I see my internist regularly as well as my pain management doctor.
I go to several meetings a week. I still have chronic pain but have found better ways to manage it with yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and non-opiate medications.
Recovery without rehab is possible but is not for everyone.