The other day — partly because of my own stupidity and partly because the only pharmacy in the small town I live in closes at 7 p.m. — I had to go off hydrocodone cold turkey.
And it was hell.
The Food and Drug Administration wants to reclassify drugs that contain hydrocodone as Schedule II drugs. That could mean patients with a legitimate need for hydrocodone may face new hurdles in getting it.
While I didn’t have to wait for a refill because of that, I did find myself in a position where I had to go off the drug cold turkey. That’s a position many pain patients may find themselves in if the new regulations go through.
It may not seem like much to make a person who suffers from chronic pain to wait an extra day or two to get things straightened out, but that extra day or two can be extremely traumatic.
I ran out on a Wednesday evening and I immediately went over to the pharmacy to ask them to call in a refill. But the doctor’s office had already closed. They said they couldn’t refill it until the next day.
No big deal. I could make it through the night. And I didn’t want to make a federal case out of it and come off like a crazy drug addict.
So, back home I went.
Normally going one night really wouldn’t be that bad, because I take a pretty strong drug to make me fall asleep.
But I had to go into the office the next day. On no pain drugs. And, because my office is two hours away, that meant I wouldn’t get home in time to pick up the prescription before the pharmacy closed for the night.
My mom ended up driving me to work because I realized that the two-hour drive each way would make me suicidal.
Even with her help though, going off the hydrocodone cold turkey was still enough to almost kill me.
When I got to work, I headed right for the bathroom, because I had buckets of diarrhea shooting out of me.
My palms were sweating and my rib pain was intensifying.
I lived through that and went to a morning meeting.
After that, I had planned to go to lunch with my mom, but suddenly my boss decided she wanted to take our team out to lunch. So I had to look professional for a two-hour business lunch while I was in opioid withdrawal.
I popped some Tylenol hoping it would help take the edge off.
After I got back from lunch I told my editor that I’d be over to his office in a bit to talk after I finished up some work at my desk.
Then, I ran to the bathroom. More diarrhea.
I was so weak, and my muscles hurt so bad that I just sat on the toilet with my jeans around my ankles, leaned my head against the blue bathroom stall, and prayed to die.
I got myself together, pulled up my pants, washed my hands and made it back to my desk, where I laid on the floor, resting my head on my puffy pink coat, until I could find the will to stand up again.
When I finally walked over to my editor’s desk, so much time had passed that he said, “Wow, you must have had a lot of work to do. I thought you might have left for the day.”
We chatted for a bit, and then I ran back to the bathroom. More diarrhea.
I wanted to go to the hospital so bad. My ribs hurt like hell. My body ached all over. And I just wanted to be dead.
I thought about laying on the floor by my desk in the fetal position and making my mom come up to the office to get me.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I gathered up all the strength inside me, and got my things together so I could go home for the day.
As I walked over to say goodbye to my boss, I thought maybe I had at least pulled off giving him the impression that everything was fine. But when I told him I was leaving, he said, “Wow, it looks like you barely made it through the day.”
I tried to sleep on the way home, while my mom drove, but I was in so much pain that I wouldn’t really call it sleeping. Needless to say, we didn’t make it home in time to get to the stupid pharmacy before they closed at 7 p.m.
And so, I had a long night ahead of me.
I tried to go to sleep as soon as I walked in the door, but every single joint in my body hurt.
It felt like a knife was in my ribs, and pain was radiating through my bones. I kept having to run to the toilet because of the diarrhea, but there was nothing left inside of me to come out.
I prayed for relief.
I prayed with all my heart that God would let me die that night. That he would take my life. That I would finally get the true relief I’ve been seeking for months and I would get to go to heaven.
I begged God for this to end.
My ankles felt simultaneously swollen, sprained and twisted. It felt like I had full-on tendonitis in my wrists. My body felt broken — all over.
And I didn’t think I would make it through the night.
I tossed and turned.
I thought about suicide. I thought about how much I hated hydrocodone.
I thought that once it got out of my system I would never go back on it.
But even as I thought it, I immediately knew it was a lie.
I knew I would go back on it the very second I got a refill in the morning. I knew because while my whole body was attacking me, there were my right ribs, screeching at me, haunting me, reminding me that I needed the hydrocodone because of my intercostal neuralgia.
My amazing mom drove to the pharmacy in the morning to get my refill, and when the new dosage kicked in, I finally felt like I could breathe again.
I don’t want to be on this stupid drug. I really, really don’t. I hate that half the doctors I see accuse me of being a drug addict. I hate that I have to constantly wonder if I am a drug addict.
But, even more than that, I hate living my life feeling like I’ve just been stabbed in the ribs.
Some people out there might choose to forego the hydrocodone so they could avoid being on an opioid. Some people might be strong enough to persevere through this horrible, horrible intercostal neuralgia pain that I have without strong pain pills. Some people might be able to live like that.
I am not one of those people.
Quality of life matters to me.
Having even a few hours a day when the pain is at a minimum is important to me. And if that means my body is physically dependent on a federally regulated opioid, then so be it.
Crystal Lindell is journalist who lives in Byron, Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, Burn Notice reruns on Netflix and Snicker’s Bites. She also has been diagnosed with intercostal neuralgia, a painful disorder of the nerves running between her ribs.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.
National Pain Report invites other readers to share their stories with us.
Send them to email@example.com
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.