By Ed Coghlan
“I’m scared, man.”
That’s how Michael Young, a retired Lansing, Michigan firefighter and paramedic describes his life these days.
Young is a 58-year old chronic pain patient who was injured on the job many years ago and like many firefighters he was injured more than once. Like many patients, he had been using opioid medication to manage his pain. Recently, his dosage was cut.
The results have been disastrous for Young who has lost thirty pounds in the past three months because as he said, “the pain hurts so much I just don’t want to eat”.
Young, a firefighter who literally has saved lives, reached out the National Pain Report.
Young may be scared (and more than a little angry), but he isn’t just taking it lying down. He’s become a one-man activist in trying to bring the plight of the pain patient to the attention of people who might do something.
Young first reached out to the US Pain Foundation, the largest pain patient advocacy organization. Young wanted to move fast, and he had some experience doing public relations when he was with the Fire Department, so he took matters into his own hands.
He has contacted Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and his own union—the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).
He’s getting positive responses from both.
Senator Stabenow wrote him saying “I agree that individuals living with severe pain need access to a variety of treatment options so they can find relief and lead productive lives.”
She also pointed out that the CDC guideline are not rules that legally bind doctors in their treatment of patients.
Young, who is in constant communication with a key Stabenow staffer, has been pressing the case to her that while the CDC Guideline may not be binding, the doctors are acting like it is.
And a spokesperson for the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union, who has known Young for many years, says the issue on their radar as well. He explained that Young’s own local IAFF #421 is already looking for other firefighters that have a similar story to Young’s. As more injured retired firefighters are identified other locals and state unions could also join the effort.
“Guys get hurt on the job. We must sure they are taken care of,” a union official told the National Pain Report.
Young became a firefighter in 1981. He was initially hurt on the job in a scene that he said looked like it could have come from the movie Backdraft.
“I was literally blown out of a burning building and landed on my back,” he said. “The guys at the scene said, ‘it should have killed you.’”
But the aches and severe pains from the event have never left him. Young has lived in pain since 1983.
Several years later, he entered another burning building to pull a woman and a baby out of a fire. He tore muscles and herniated a disc in his back.
They put him on Vicodin and told him he could go on disability.
But Young grew up wanting to be a fireman, so he declined. He hated the pain but he loved the work.
And for years after, especially in his work as a paramedic where he was lifting people out of auto wrecks and other accidents, he just continued to beat himself up.
Finally, in 2004, his body broke down and he left on a disability.
During that time, his doctor had changed his medication to OxyContin. “He told me it was non-habit forming and it was the best pain relief I’d ever had.”
Of course, Young like many others who were prescribed it at the time, found out it was habit forming.
Still the pain—both physical and mental—persisted and Young had what he said was a tough time getting right.
He was seeing a psychologist and had to endure a lot of loss—the loss of what he loved to do and then in a six-month period his mother and grandmother and two close friends all died and he also underwent shoulder surgery.
“All that threw me for a loop,” he said.
But in recent years, he was “getting my life back”. He was working with a psychologist and was focused on getting better. He was making progress.
“My PTSD, depression and anxiety were easing, I was a lot more active around the house, I was getting some exercise and my relationship with my wife was just great— and then I got that damn letter.”
His rehabilitation care specialist informed him that they were going to dramatically reduce his dosage—to the point where he’s only taking 25% of the pain medication of what he was taking.
“It’s been a living nightmare, Ed,” he said. “I can hardly function.”
But he can still fight.
“The pain patient has no advocates—we have to do this ourselves and get people in power to listen,” he said
He feels like Senator Stabenow and her staff have heard him. He thinks the Fire Fighters Union has heard him.
“I plan to keep fighting. I’m addicted to life and I want mine back,” he said.