I started working in the third grade at my Dad’s tavern, tearing up floors, mopping floors, emptying big buckets of water outside into the streets, rolling a hand truck with five or six full cases of beer to restock coolers, and carrying trash out to the alley.
I was boy #4 in a nine child family. All of us four older boys were considered big strapping young men, and when someone in the neighborhood needed help moving furniture or appliances it was not unusual that our phone rang.
At 21, I moved to Illinois and worked for a short time in a paint factory, where dumping and pouring out 100 or more 55 gallon drums was not unusual. I moved on when I was hired at a coal-fired power plant. I hired into the boiler room, and the first weekend on the job I was crawling into a boiler to jackhammer out all the accumulated slag built up on the walls and floors of the furnace.
Throughout my career, overtime was a fact of life. It was something that greatly enhanced all of our paychecks, and most of us welcomed all we could handle. I averaged around 900 hours annually of overtime, with an all-time high of 1,750 hours one year. When you consider a 40 hour work week is about 2,080 hours a year, we sometimes came close to working the equivalent of two full time jobs.
This included times when severe back pain was encountered, and generally a week of rest was prescribed. I “threw my back out” or “slipped a disc” as the company doctor would call it.
One of the practices they had was to keep us on the payroll in a “light duty” job, sometimes desk duty or sweeping. This allowed the company to keep the injury reports off the record. Their goal was to be injury free, with no cases of lost time. A safety flag was won for achieving this goal, and every plant manager wanted that green safety flag flying under the American flag outside.
My last 7 years of employment I was working in the top job of the operating department as a unit operator, which was considered to be a “hot seat” job, similar to an air traffic controller where 365/24/7 coverage was necessary to supply electricity to the power grid.
When I was assigned to the control room and spent long hours sitting in chairs monitoring the plant, I started to experience severe back spasms and incredible bouts of pain. I visited my personal physician, who prescribed a painkiller and cyclobenzaprine, which helped.
I also saw a chiropractor, who treated me and many of my co-workers over the years. I would easily estimate that I probably had over 300 sessions with him, including spinal adjustments, heat treatments, electrical stimulation and exercises. I also had acupuncture a dozen or more times, x-rays, MRI’s, physical therapy, massage, yoga, steroid injections, etc.
I have consulted with a neurosurgeon, but he could not do any surgeries in the lumbar region because I have degenerative disc disease. The same problem exists in my neck. Arthritis is noted in the spine, knees, elbows, hands, fingers, and toes. Most all my joints have some arthritis.
The imaging is proof positive that the injured areas are permanently injured, with no surgical solutions. I was medically retired in 2006 and finally won my disability case with Social Security in 2012.
As the frequency of my pain increased, so did the severity. My internal medicine doctor first prescribed Vicodin, which proved to be useless in quelling the pain. So the doctor switched me to morphine.
I also consulted with a rheumatologist, due to the fiery pains and numbness I was experiencing in my hands and feet. She prescribed Lyrica, which provided some relief. We have had to increase the dosage and frequency over the last 5 years. The morphine level has also gone up. I now take ten different drugs daily to control my pain and other symptoms.
I was receiving my drugs through a mail order pharmacy, a benefit of my healthcare plan. But recently the state of Illinois changed the laws for Schedule II drugs, which can now only be prescribed for 30 days at a time. The prescriptions cannot be mailed from the doctor to the patient or pharmacy, the patient has to hand deliver the prescriptions to a local pharmacist for filling.
This has been extremely disruptive to the process of obtaining and having on hand the proper amount of prescribed drugs. There was one period of time when I had to miss dosages due to shortages created at the local pharmacies, which were not prepared for the influx of new patient prescriptions.
When my prescriptions were being filled by the mail order pharmacy, all I would have to do is sign for a package delivered by UPS once every three months.
Currently, I have to call monthly to request the prescriptions, drive 42 miles to the doctor’s office to pick them up, and deliver them personally to the local pharmacy. It takes at least 3 and up to 6 people to process the prescriptions and enter them into the system; which are then filled by a pharmacy technician, who hands them over to the pharmacist, who finally gives them to me.
Then I have to carry these out to the parking lot and drive home. I feel that I am more vulnerable now to attack or theft, as a number of people know that I have prescribed opioid painkillers. If just one person says one thing one time in the presence of one wrong person, that personal information of mine can be exploited in a criminal way.
I have written to the Governor’s office about this matter, and have yet to receive a reply.
I spend many hours of many days in extreme pain, laid out on the couch. I feel that I am under personal attack, as the laws change and the many entities out there fight against opioid painkillers, making them harder to obtain.
I have had many discussions with all of my doctors about the amount of drugs that I take and the dosages prescribed. In the end, they all agree that this is the best course of action, as we have exhausted all the other options available.
I eat a healthy diet, drink loads of water, battle my weight daily, and strive to live a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. I work on my house, work on my yard and garden. I fight for the quality of life that I enjoy today.
Thomas Brandow lives in Illinois.
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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.