Pills for Breakfast: Working While in Pain

Pills for Breakfast: Working While in Pain

I went on my last business trip of 2013 last week.

It was only to St. Louis — a one-hour flight from my area — but when you’re sick, any sort of trip is equivalent to running up the stairs at the John Hancock Building and then painting a three-story house.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, overall my job has been seriously amazing in regards to accommodating my needs since being struck with excruciating pain last February.

My boss has allowed me to work from home about 90 percent of the time, he has let me have modified hours if I’m not feeling well, and he’s allowed me to go to each and every one of my 14,285 doctor’s appointments over the past year without docking my pay for a single one of them. He even sent me get-well plant when I had to spend a night in the hospital.

But even when your boss is the only boss you’ve ever met that’s actually worthy of a gift on “Bosses Day”, working while sick is hard.

bigstock-Image-of-business-woman-holdin-43989976My day job stills involves lots of business trips, which usually leaves me feeling like I just got out of a boxing ring by the time my plane lands back in Sweet Home Chicago.

I confess that in the past I got through a lot of these trips by downing slightly more than the recommended amount of prescription pain pills than any of my doctors would really want to know about.

Not, like more than anyone should take, just, you know, more than the prescribed amount.

Look, when you literally feel like someone just dropped a cinder block on your right rib cage and you’re five states from home and you’re staring at a day filled with 17 meetings, sometimes you have to make hard choices.

And it’s not even that I take the pills to get through the meetings. It’s more that the pain I end up in while I’m out of town on business — work days that start at 6 a.m. and go until 11 p.m.  — cause such unbearable pain that I’m willing to cut into my lungs, pull out my rib cage, and slam it on the table if it would give me even the slightest relief.

So yeah, in the past I’ve taken whatever pills I needed to get through the day, and then I’d just plan to make it up at the end of the month.

What would really happen though is that I would try to ration the pills when I noticed I was getting low, and for the last few days of the month, I’d have one, maybe two a day to get me through — enough to keep me from going into withdrawal, but not enough to help with the pain.

Or, I’d run out five days early and I’d have to beg my doctor (dealer?) for an early refill, lest I have to go through full withdrawal.

The only thing worse than excruciating pain in your right ribs? Excruciating pain in your ribs, plus opiate withdrawal.

Due to this and many other factors, last month I switched to a new pain pill while I was at the doctor.

It’s one of those magical 12-hour pills that supposedly release a new dose into your body every four hours with some form of digestive and pharmaceutical voodoo.

Here’s the thing about these new pills though — I don’t know how to take an extra one here and there when I feel like death.

Good because it means I should come out even at the end of the month.

Bad because it means that when I have to go on a business trip to St. Louis, I don’t have a backup plan when I find myself in the middle of a factory tour, and the pain is literally so bad that I want to just drop down onto the cold cement and lie there until I die.

Anyway, on my last day there, I got up to get ready for my last meeting and I took a shower.

Did you read that?

I got up to get ready for my last meeting and I took a shower.

That’s a totally normal sentence in the world of the well. But when you’re sick, showers are rationed like unicorn horns.

When I’m talking to strangers, I like to say that I shower every other day. But my family knows it’s more like twice a week.

They drain all of my energy, they leave me in horrible pain, and I only take them when I know I’m going to see someone important.

To give you an idea of what qualifies as “important” even my boyfriend doesn’t always make the cut.

I like to pretend I’m still a little classy though, so on business trips I try to shower daily. So, like I said, I got up to get ready for my last meeting and I took a shower.

But between that, blow drying my hair and packing my suitcase, I was done for the day.

Except, of course, I wasn’t.

And as I went to walk down to the front desk to check out, with my carry-on bag in tow, I was in so much pain that if it were a year ago — a.k.a. the magical time before I had to endure a life with daily pain — I literally would have gone to the hospital.

Instead though, I went to my last meeting.

And familiar thoughts started running through my head.

How much longer can I do this? How much pain can I really endure during a business trip? What happens if I can’t do this anymore?

I’m working a job I love, for a boss I love even more. And most of the time it’s stupendous. Except when I have to go on a business trip. Or drive into the office. Or take a shower.

I don’t want to give it up. I have no intention of giving it up.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that sometimes pain doesn’t really care want you want.

Crystal Lindell

Crystal Lindell

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.

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.

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Nancy L

My heart breaks for you. I think you still need to find a good doctor to diagnoise you as their maybe a surgery or treatment to help you. Have they done an MRI on your spine? Something is missing as usually us people with chronic pain have had numerous surgeries, back problems, accidents or injuries. You are too young to have to live like this. Have you thought of going to the Mayo Clinic as they have a diagnostic pain department. I have been living with chronic pain for over 15 years after many surgeries, fusions, steroid injections and all the time working many hours in healthcare. Then I had a tumor removed from my foot and it caused me to not be able to walk and all kinds of neurological problems I was 52 years old and had to stop working. It has been almost 8 years since then and it took me a long time to find the right medicine. But I am on Methadone and I also have Dilaudud for break through pain. Most doctors who have patients on long acting pain medicine also give them some short acting for reasons you just stated. Their will be times when you will have flare ups and will need additional medicine. I wish they would find out what is causing the pain, because it came on so sudden it seems that it has to be some type of trauma to your spine or ribs. It is just so strange and I feel for you. Don’t give up, you have to be your own advocate. Keep a journal of your pain, keep medical records of all your tests and results and keep them in a binder. Bring it with you when ever you see a new doctor. Maybe a rheumatoid specialist? Don’t give up, you have your whole life ahead of you. Research on the Internet, put in your symptoms and see what comes up. It took me almost 3 years to find out what was wrong exactly with me and it was from two great neurologist at Universty of San Francisco. I brought everything with me so that they could see all what was done and the results. They still ordered more blood, X-rays but they helped me so much. I will always have pain, but I finally have it under control. I don’t live a normal life, but I am not in bed 24/7 everyday. I have some good days where I almost feel normal. I will pray for you and keep praying for God to put you with the correct doctor. Keep us posted! Nancy


“it’s that sometimes pain doesn’t really care want you want.” A truer statement than ever was one Crystal. I have read three of your articles in the last 20 minutes. My heart goes out to you Sister. Due to a back injury suffered apparently when I was 9 or 10 years old, which didn’t manifest itself until 7 years ago when I was 47, my life is now 10% of what it was. A successful self employed business owner, money in the bank and looking forward to finally being able to buy my own home kind of life, is now a life existing on hard fought for and won disability which provides me with the very minimum amount to live on. I have lost my freedom and a lot of control over my own life - my body doesn’t co-operate, friends and family don’t co-operate (well … some do now but only after much fighting and pain), I am hostage to 30 day prescription, now 28 days as of today …. with a diagnosis of progressive, never to improve and no surgery available to correct or cure. So at 54 some might say my life is over. It’s true that my old life is over. Every day I must adapt to how my body is when I wake up. I can never ever count on it. If I have a good day or even two …. I am veryyy slowly learning not to count on that. So I never make plans or dates, unless it’s to the doctor or the pharmacy, or with family or friends who understand my situation. I consider ending it all often. Out of frustration, fear and anger. It is the continued arrogance/ignorance of people generally, including the medical profession. It is the continued weariness of knowing I am unable to trust , knowing how some people react, how they judge, how they lie. It wasn’t until this manifested in my life, that I truly can say I have seen the very worst in humans, at least as far my health and well being are concerned. Yet … I do continue to feel empathy and compassion for fellow pain sufferers who are candid, intelligent and especially for those who cannot reach out for themselves. You are doing an important job Crystal, in sharing your world and your experiences … we all have to do this. We can’t let the bastards get us down! All I can give you is much love and huge cyber hugs from the West Coast of BC Canada, and my continuing thoughts of healing and peace of mind to you because that is just about the only thing we can work at controlling. oxoxo Care

Linda McNulty Sauer

Those 12 hour pain meds never work a full 12 hours for me. So I usually get 3 per day or one every 8 hours. Most people get those 12 hour meds and a 4 hour pain med to take in between doses because many have break through pain. Tell you doctor! Good luck. Love your candid blog!


My boss is understanding about my pain. My job requires me to be on my feet a lot. I have degenerative disc disease, several herniated discs, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica that makes my legs feel like my tissue has been replaced with fire and needles.

I also tend to take what medication I need to get me through the day when I am having a really bad pain flare. I am a responsible pain patient and am usually good about making sure that I will have enough at the end of the month so I don’t have super intense, out of control pain or start going through withdrawals. Once in a great while though I run short. My doctor is fairly understanding but I try not to call early for my refills more than once or twice a year. With all of the problems and new legislation involving opioids I don’t want to push my luck.

I also know exactly what you’re talking about with the showers. Showers drain my energy and make me feel awful. The spray of water feels painful on my skin. I am not set up for baths where I live, and I hate baths anyway. They are a pain in the butt. Oh, and I hate being wet! I am very sensitive to cold and being wet makes that a lot worse.

Great piece - thanks so much for your candor. We have similar pain conditions. I had a less understanding boss(es) and ended-up switching careers in order to better manage my pain - like you said, pain doesn’t much care what your plans or dreams are. Best of luck!