One Fireman’s Fight for Himself and the Chronic Pain Patient

One Fireman’s Fight for Himself and the Chronic Pain Patient

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.’”

It didn’t.

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.

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Authored by: Ed Coghlan

There are 16 comments for this article
  1. Laura P Schulman, M.D., M.A., FAAP at 6:42 am

    Great post!

    Is anyone doing a petition, like Change.org, to collect millions and millions of pain patients’ signatures that we could hand deliver to Congress? It’s hard for pain patients to do “demonstrations in the streets” kind of advocacy, because we can’t move around much, especially when we’re hurting.

    I’m a disabled physician. I keep my license current, mainly so that I can keep up on what’s happening in my lost profession.

    To my horror, my State Medical Board is now monitoring pharmacy records of all prescribers. We are allowed a certain number of “morphine equivalents” per month (one morphine equivalent= one milligram of oxycodone, for instance). I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s pitifully small. The idea, they say, is to catch “pill mills.” Unfortunately, they also catch people like orthopedists who tend to dispense a lot of opioid prescriptions, and rightly so, which everyone knows who has ever had bones broken and/or sawed. Doctors who exceed the morphine equivalent limit are censured, have their names published in a monthly report available to the public (public shaming), and can have their licenses limited or suspended.

    So yes, the states have taken up the mission of limiting doctors’ autonomy to prescribe on a case-by-case basis, as we have always done. If I were not totally disabled I would hang up my white coat and teach high school biology.

  2. Sandra G at 12:52 pm

    Politicians act like they have never heard what is going on. But yet you go online and find where they voted for this to happen for us. No they won’t contact you back. Never had one accept Jay Inslees office governor of Washington state. Only honest one I have ever known was him. I don,t know what we are going to do, but we have to band together so our voice will be heard. So we have any leaders out there ?

  3. Anonymous at 1:33 am

    “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” -Mahatma Gandhi

  4. Mary Dunigan at 11:00 pm

    I too have suffered from the backlash! I have Lupus, DDD, migraines and ao much more. I have spent my life taking care of others! Twenty if those years in the back breaking nursing field! I am so diaheartened to now have the community treat me as they could care less if I live or die! After my Doc of ten years retired I was unable to find another primary to take me! Not only unwilling to prescribe meds but unwilling to take me as a patient at all!!!! I did not know that was even something that could be done! I was left to withdraw off fentanyl 100 mcg patches and oxys on my own. The pain and the withdrawls had me on the floor writhing and primally screaming out! Passing in and out if consciousness! My husband found me unresponsive and called 911! I awoke inan ambulance and the looks on the EMS worker’s faces I will never forget! My BP was DOWN to 220/146 I heard one of them say! The pain had caused me to go into a cardiac hypertensive crisis! I am only 41 and opiate withdrawl and pain almost killed me!!!! Now that I have survived I want to FIGHT! Fight those that are no longer alive in order to fight! Fight for those that can’t get out of bed to fight! They think that by treating us as if we don’t matter that we will all die off and or go away! We don’t deserve this and I want to fight! But my question is how???? Our letters go unanswered our complaints go ignored! What can we feasibly do that will make a difference? What will get our voices heard! I almost died! I know I am not the only one who has been cut off and endured the horrific consequences! The only recourse I can think of ;involves contacting an attorney! Class action?!!! Also I must say medicinal marijuana has been a great alternative for me and I recommend it to anyone looking to ease their suffering and improve their quality if life. It did mine! God Bless pain survivors! You are never alone! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  5. Jennifer at 5:30 pm

    Mr. Young we need to get a patent and a design!
    “I AM ADDICTED TO LIFE AND I WANT MINE BACK!”
    How awesomely simple and powerful something we have all been thinking and phrased so perfectly! With your permission sir I would like to use it and if asked I will make sure you get credit for it. This fight is far to important but passing that around will stick in people’s heads and help make them think and maybe look for correct education. I am dealing with same treatment here in Tennessee and it’s took my quality if life to nothing. Not only cut on amount but also the type of medication as well they are on a one size fits all mentality here sadly.

  6. Stephen Rodrigues, MD at 4:23 pm

    I’ve witnessed hundreds of these stories, and they all make me feel nauseous especially knowing that you all have been betrayed. And do not believe that there is a way our of pain.

    Is it so hard to assert the God-given fact that the human body is innately and perfectly designed to take care of itself with a few basic daily requirements?

    I see chronic complicated pain problems in my office every day and everyone response to the simple treatment recipe which I have placed here many times before but this is the basic recipe:
    1. Nutritious foods, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
    2. Work life, spiritual life, fun life, stress life balance.
    3. Daily exercise along with physical therapy.
    4. A good nights sleep.

    The original reasons why we have these problems today are direct descendent of the evil actions of a few physicians in the 1960s. These doctors tricked everyone into believing that you can treat pain by removing body parts. Now that I say that it is utterly bizarre today everyone expects that amputation of a body part is the best treatment for pain.

    The skeleton is innocent. The skeleton and any of its components cannot generate the amount of pain you’re having. Only the muscular system can produce this amount of pain and misery.

    These bad doctors had to back up their trick of the mind by also taking away all of the corrective physical therapy options. Free and open PT can be perfectly matched to the patient’s individual pain needs. By customizing PT by nature, there is an inherent guarantee to eliminate the derived muscular pain.

    Asking for more pain medicine from the government is asking them to do nothing for you and your plight to help your destiny. I would suggest you call Novitas Solutiosn, Inc, who are the barriers which are guarding your treatments. I would ask them to let physical therapy go!! Place it back on the front burner!

    Is it so difficult to believe that we have all been set up?
    Is it so hard to believe that we’ve been set up for profits?
    Is it so hard to believe that so many people can be miserable without a reasonable, logical answer?

    It is tough for me to believe that the honor and integrity of physicians are dead.

    It’s tough for me to discover that some doctors, hospitals, device manufacturers, insurance executives are involved in true criminal activities. These accomplices are using misinformed consent to cut-out living viable tissues from wounded and innocent Americans to buy luxury items for themselves.

  7. Jean Price at 11:41 am

    Every time I read these articles and comments…I can’t help wishing they were all lying on the desks of senators and representatives and the president and civil rights activists and their lawyers and in all the church newsletters and plastered all over the Internet and in the AARP magazine and the newspapers and radio stations and in medical schools and nursing programs, even coffee shops and beauty palors….ANYWHERE that could make our situations known and recruit more people to work WITH us and help us!! But sadly, everyone who reads these has likely experiences of their own that mirror what’s happened to the author and the commenters!! What if the NPR could set up a small network/relay to make this happen…funded by our donations or out of the goodness of their hearts, to put every article and the comments in circulation?? Both in hard copy and through the Internet? What if what we said here counted toward educating people about what’s happening? Wouldn’t that be a worthy goal?! Would you, Ed? Could you, with our help and support? If these comments and stories touch my heart, I can’t help thinking they would also touch the hearts of those who aren’t part of this crazy witchhunt!! And we need those people to stand with us…because it seems no one else is!! We can’t really fight this problem with logic…because it isn’t a logical medical issue, but rather caused by greed and power and deceit and false statistics to generate fear and illogical reactions! So we must speak to the heart of the public and let them know we’re suffering needlessly. Let them know we need their help …because it’s likely to impact them or their loved ones from an accident or illness in the future! And I can’t think,of a better way to start that happening en mass! Can anyone? How can we make this happen? And how do we keep pain care from ENTIRELY falling back into the dark ages where it was seen as a punishment for sinning?! How can we use EVERYTHING at our disposal to open the eyes of the general public, and gain their COMPASSION and HELP?!

  8. Tamara Johnson-Scott at 11:12 am

    I too am TERRIFIED

  9. Tamara Johnson-Scott at 11:05 am

    I KNOW THE FEAR!!! I’m a former RadTech whow went from being a very healthy, PRODUCTIVE, active mother of 5 to a permanently disabled Chronic pain MESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! All because of a “simfple” COMMON Cholecystectomy!!! I was finally diagnosed (3yrs and over 180 ambulance transports to the ER and admittance to hospital later) with Spincter of Oddi Dysfunction (SOD) and Chronic Pancreatitis! Now NO-ONE in Fort Wayne IN (2nd largest city in Indiana) has EVER HEARD of sphincter of oddi dysfunction so I ONLY get treated for Pancreatitis which is why I’m STILL constantly in the hospital! NO ONE LISTENS to me!!! My PCP will treat me in the hospital with 3mg dilaudid every 3hrs IV and 25mcg fentnyl every 72hrs. But as soon as I’m discharged NOTHING!! I’ve been to 4 different pain Dr’s. Now and have been let go because my case is too “difficult” to treat! I’m on the 5th and FINAL pain Dr. that will deal with internal abdominal pain but was informed he doesn’t prescribe narcotics until AFTER I exhaust ALL OTHER OPTIONS, which are PHYSICAL THERAPY (I’m 5′ 7″ and 130lbs. AND I already work out with my mother in law whose a physical therapist) BUT THAT DOESN’T COUNT, working with a NUTRITIONIST (already did that 4 years ago, but now I have a JG feeding tube so I only use formula) but THAT DOESN’T MATTER, going to a PSYCHIATRIST, did that already for the past 4 pain Dr’s, BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER, and last but not least STEROIDS, been there tried those made it worse to which I was told “it’ll seem like it’s getting worse but keep taking them, it’ll get better” ummm NO, NO IT WON’T!!! But that fell on “deaf ears” so he did prescribe 12mcg of fentnyl every 72hrs for 3 months! It’s NOT working but I’m TERRIFIED to call and report to him that I’m laying in my bed in PAIN listening to the rest of my family having a great time WITHOUT mom! I/they have been dealing with this for 7yrs now and it’s been the WORST of times of my 46yrs on this planet!! My children have practically raised themselves and are staring to view me as a BURDEN although they love me very much I know, but between the hearing mom SCREAM in pain and BEGGING for help, the numerous ambulance runs and hospital admittances usually 2-3 day stays sometimes longer, and the NON ACTIVITY and laying in bed when home has taken a toll on my MARRIAGE and RELATIONSHIP WITH MY CHILDREN! Now the DEPRESSION has set in with me, I’ve been told over and over by PARAMEDICS /EMTS that I’m “NOT GOING TO GET THAT FIX YOUR WANTING” as well as ER personnel treating me like I’m an addict and making me SUFFER for HOURS (I’ve went 36hrs.straight vomiting) before FINALLY getting the PROPER TREATMENT I DESERVE!!!!!!!! I have the SAME symptoms everytime I go to the ER, I even give them a copy of my diagnosis, I’ve called in the COO of the hospital, my husband and I BOTH went to see him. We told him about my case and the situations I was having, his comment was “the ER is so big and has so many personnel that it’s impossible to get to everyone to tell them about my case” to which I piped up and said “you mean to tell me that there is NO WAY possible to put a flag on my account to alert them of my condition and treatment protocol”?? To which he said “yes there’s no way to that” “YET” I said ” you can flag an account of being a possible addict looking for a fix”? I got a blank stare and meeting was ended because of a “call” he had to make. I think my husband threw him for a loop when he told him that he was an IT/ Desk Top Engineer and knows the medical systems he set up while deployed in Iraq had the abilities to individually notate personal treatment protocols for each patient and that was a bunch of “HORSE S**T” he was shoveling! LOL! But seriously here’s a question for you, how can ANIMALS have a HUMANE SOCIETY that watches over and PROTECTS their care and treatment , BUT an actual HUMAN has absolutely positively NOTHING/NO ONE watching over and PROTECTING their care and treatment?!?!!!! The way pain patients are treated is simply IN-HUMANE!!! What does this say about our future?!?!

  10. Sandra at 10:14 am

    Yes I hear you. My doctor just told me she had to stop giving me pain medication. I was taking only a small amount which still left me in pain. Hydrocodone -acet 10/325 tablets. I in Washington state. My husband will have to put me in a nursing home now. I can’t get around to help him with anything. I will not be going to a nice nursing home for people with a little money. The kinds I have to go to should really be shut down. I’m scared. I’m 68 years old and my life is over. Research on the nursing home is you usually last about 2 years. Don,t let any one tell you any different. The people that can get around last longer.
    Well here it is. We pay the wages of the people that are treating us this way. We the people have no say . This is not about wanting to keep people safe it’s about that old holly dollar.
    We better find a way fast to band together and get something done about the politicians doing this to us. This problem hasn’t even reached the people yet. They don’t have a idea on what is coming down the road with health care. We need a leader we have to join together. I am in so much pain, no one will help me.
    Sandra

  11. Sherril Phelps at 9:19 am

    I hear you buddy, I am addicted to life also and I want mine back!! This life of pain and no one listening or believing you is not the one for me.
    I’m in a workmans comp battle right now. But the battle with chronic pain is much worse.

  12. cliff macway at 9:13 am

    Same thing here in Vacaville California. Kaiser Permanente is in a wich hunt to pull every Chronic pain patient of of opioids unless you are a cancer patient because the CDC are replacing doctors! Opioids were my last option to deal with severe spinal issues. And now this insane decision from our government. I had asked one of my doctors what were they going to replace my Norco with and she said “nothing”. Then I asked what am I going to do?? Her reply was “get used to it”.

  13. Mark G. at 8:06 am

    It is a disgrace for anyone to have the carpet pulled from under them like this firefighter! Whatever happened to the oath Doctors take to “Above all, do NO harm”. Do they really think they have done this pain sufferer a favor? What is medicine coming to? Scary scary times. Yes I am a chronic pain patient who is very frightened that anyway I will be back to living a life of suffering.

  14. Martha Arntson at 6:40 am

    Your story has inspired me once again to fight against these new “Guidelines” that have been implemented over the past 6 months or more. I too was abruptly taken off my minimal amount of Percocet 7.5 mg 3 x day. March, 2016 my Pain Management Physician said “I am not prescribing anymore Schedule II opiates for you”. That was that. I left with my “alternative” pain relief which was a mild muscle relaxer, and the Butrans patch.

    Since then I have been put on Oral Buprenorphine, Subutex and more Butrans patches and lastly Beluca (a brand name that costs 4 x as much as the generic). Almost 4 months later I have managed my pain with heating pads on my neck and low back, tons of Advil (not good for my stomach issues), Excedrin Migraine and my Tens Unit. All which do not make for daily pain relief unless I want to try to drive or even do light housework with a Salon Paws patch or a microwave heated bean bag strapped around me. None of these eliminate pain much, but what else can I do?

    The doctors are telling me that as of August, 2016 99% of their patients will be on a form of Buprenorphine, a brand drug called Beluca. Needless to say, it is just Buprenorphine under another name, packaged for sale via RX only, Schedule II and is very expensive.

    I am so sorry for your pain. I wish there were some avenues for people like you who have served your community so faithfully and could withstand your pain with the appropriate amount of pain medication. I fear more like you will suffer because of this blanket “GUIDELINE” that seems to have spread very quickly, like FIRE, around the Pain Management Facilities in every State.

    Please keep us updated as to your progress trying to get some relief and help? Thank you again for sharing your story of pain.

  15. HJ at 5:33 am

    Michael, I wish you the best. It’s shameful that they’re doing this to people like you. My parents’ house burned down in 2005. I have a special place in my heart for men who put their lives on the line like you did. My parents weren’t home at the time and they had insurance. They did return home and they both entered the house via separate entryways. Thankfully, both got out without any harm. I was devastated to hear that they’d gone inside to try to save their pets. The loss of the pets was terrible, but I thank the Lord my parents weren’t hurt… or killed. I lived in another city on the other side of the state when this occurred.

    There is a “before the fire” and “after the fire.” Our lives now are time-stamped that way. I can’t imagine what you’ve seen and been through. Please hang in there. I’m sending love and prayers from Pittsburgh, PA. God bless you, and keep fighting for relief.

  16. V. Wood at 3:46 am

    I am sorry for your situation, Mr. Young, and glad that you may be having some success with the contacts you have made.

    I have lived with chronic pain for ten years because of neurological damage caused by chemotherapy. My primary care physician, fearful of regulatory backlash, cut all her patients completely off pain medication five years ago. I complained about the situation and not only was fired from the practice but also threatened with being blackballed from finding another PCP because I am a “drug seeker.” I had thought it was cancer that was going to take my life. Instead I found the greater threat to my health was the fear held by medical professionals of patients with chronic pain. The only way I was recently able to find another PCP was to promise never to mention my chronic pain or to ask the practice to treat my pain. That is not how I thought a medical professional was to practice, but at this point I will take what I can get treatment for my other medical conditions.

    I have lived for ten years in daily pain and for the past five have been mostly housebound. After the CDC “guidelines” were issued, I wrote to my two US Senators and one US Representative, but never heard back from any of them. I am glad you are having more success, and hope that your efforts may start helping you and others who have found that pain medication allows them to live a semblance of a productive life. All my best to you, Mr. Young.