daily life

Cold Turkey: Quitting Painkillers for Osteoarthritis

Pattye Snyder Health Guide December 06, 2011
  • I'm a well-educated and fairly intelligent person who has been undergoing the challenges of a variety of things caused by my osteoarthritis for over 14 years. Many people don't understand my refusal to take pain meds in spite of, at times, debilitating pain. The side effects for me, haven't been worth taking any of the HUGE variety of prescription drugs on the market.

    A few months ago, my orthopedic surgeon as well as my neurologist, diagnosed me with the biggest challenge so far - my back is "betraying" me! My lower back has deteriorating disks, I also have stenosis of the spinal column, bulging disks, exposed nerves, and a few other things.  Therefore causing excruciating pain. After a CT Scan, I was also told I needed to sell my house and buy one with no stairs. It was also recommended that I be sure to have wide doorways (they didn't need to explain that to me!).

    Yes, I was frightened about the future. My doctors also put me on a 24 hour a day regimen of strong narcotic painkillers. (At that point, I was pretty much willing to try anything!) After a couple of weeks, it seemed that I was falling a lot; my neurologist noted that I only fell to the left because of the "injured" nerves, but he didn't seem particularly concerned. I noticed that I also suddenly seemed to have trouble staying in focus. I went back to my neurologist with a ton of questions, and it seemed that everything I was experiencing was due to the pain meds. I asked the specialists if I could quit taking them all - they said the pain would return. My reply was that I'd rather be in pain and know what I was doing.  When my doctor didn't reply, I mistakenly assumed that he agreed with me.

    Please note that I'm NOT BRAGGING about what I did - but this is a word of warning to our readers!

    I went home and decided that since the pills seemed to be causing me more problems, I would simply quit taking them all at the same time, which I realize now was not only dangerous, but a stupid thing to do!


    I was very ill for a couple of weeks with flu-like symptoms as well as horrible nightmares. It has now been over four weeks and the nausea, etc. has stopped. I no-longer seemed to have the nightmares - and, as a bonus, I haven't fallen since I quit the meds!


    With the initial diagnosis of my "new" back problems, I felt like somehow, my life was over - all I could see were my limitations.  It seemed I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that. OK, my life has obviously had to change - I climbed mountains in the Rainforest of Madagascar in February.  I have a small custom baking business, and was afraid I'd have to give that up also.  Yes I was feeling sorry for myself, frustrated, scared. All I did at first was read and sleep.

    Gradually, I'm rejoining the world and learning what I CAN do. When customers started calling with orders, I thought "OH NO." Obviously, my 16 hours a day baking marathons are gone, but I've found that if I only work for two hours each morning and then rest for the remainder of the day ... this is workable, and I can get a lot done in two hours.

  • I've also started intensive physical therapy, and have been given permission to go to the warm water pool to exercise at our Fitness Center. In the past, I admittedly would have felt the need to go at least five days a week for an hour or so each time. Now, I'm allowed two 20 minute sessions twice a week, and am exhausted! (But I CAN do it!) I've also gone to the local pain clinic to receive injections directly into the nerves in my low back - definitely NOT my idea of a fun time, but it relieves the pain.


    It's totally awesome to work with my favorite gingerbread dough again - it's a recipe I received from my grandmother, and my customers love having "real" gingerbread boys to share at Christmas. I'm discovering that much of my prep work - such as chopping nuts and dried fruit - can be done while sitting. I've even learned to make several small trips to the store to pick up baking supplies since I'm not allowed to carry heavy things. My physical therapist seems to understand my past of working too hard, and was concerned when she found I was baking in the mornings. She was very relieved to find that, at the end of two hours, even if I'm not finished, I quit and put the dough in the refrigerator for another day. I explained to her that I discovered the hard way if I go over that limit, the pain increases radically!

     

    So, in an almost strange way, my disability has become a creative challenge for me. I
    noticed one day that most of my canes are plain black. I decided that, since obviously a cane is going to be a part of me for a long time, I decided I wanted to have it make a statement. Since I've been a wildlife photographer in Africa for a long time, I found a wonderful cane with the pattern of a cheetah's coat on it! It tells people about me!


    My "cold turkey" this Thanksgiving wasn't exactly what I was hoping for.


    I know that there are many things I can no longer do, but there are also many new things I can do! Have a safe and happy holiday!


    I have osteoarthritis but it doesn't have me! WATCH ME!


    asante sana
    pattye

Helpful Tools and Devices How to Make Life with RA Easier