Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bad Seasons, Good Seasons (Part One)

90 days is not a long time. It may seem like it, if you're in a hurry and anxiously waiting for something, but overall it is a relatively small measure of time, compared to say, a decade or two.

It is three months, a fourth of a year, a season.

You can either get a whole lot or remarkably little done in that amount of time, if you set your mind to it. Then again, many squander whole years, not realizing they have an actual finite number, while some seize the day.

Ironically, trying to improve my time management and getting more done at work and in my personal life was a big impetus for looking for a diet and exercise program, which led me to P90X.

I had wanted to start some fitness program for a long time, but I simply could not, because of health problems.

I lost years. Enough to really make me angry. Some of you know that I have a fairly severe chronic nerve pain condition and have had it for over 10 years. And the serious health problems that led into that... migraines, a heart arrhythmia, hearing loss, severe tinnitus, TMJ, etc. started 15 years ago, right after a back surgery in 1996.

My quality of life plummeted sharply and quickly and I was pretty unhappy to come to grips in my late 20s that I was not invincible and there was even a chance that I might not in fact live forever, as I had previously planned.

I was a carpet installer for 10 years and owned my own business for the last 5 of them. I was used to throwing 100 pound rolls on my back and walking them up 3 flights of stairs for 14 hour days.

As the last few years of working in floor-covering became much worse, at the end of each day, I had to crawl to a doorjamb or counter and pull myself up with my arms, because I couldn't stand up by myself. I knew I had to change careers and started working on computers, right after my last big contract.

But even then, finally working at a desk, my chronic pain and other health problems became even much worse between 2000 and 2008.

And yet the doctors finally came to the rescue and only with the combined knowledge of all of mankind and countless years of advancement in science and technology, they offered me enough pain medicine to stun a rhino.

For literally thousands of years, long before doctors even discovered anesthesia or washed their hands before surgery, we simply called it "opium" and you didn't have to go to college to learn how to dispense it for $300K a year.

To be fair, they actually never gave me more than enough to just manage the pain and I never once craved it or abused it. I always took as little as possible to manage the pain and be able to gain improved functionality, just as they taught us in a 2 month pain clinic I went up to Washington to attend.

The problem is that I have a naturally high tolerance and over time that increased even more. I never became "addicted" which is psychological, as I hated the stuff, but built a physical dependance. (Most non-pain sufferers do not remotely know the difference between dependence and addiction.)

And add to that another problem, where your liver constantly "learns" to better process pain medicine over time and they have to switch you from one narcotic to the next every year or so. It is called opiate rotation.

Unfortunately, the perfect storm came to a head. My HMO was more than happy to not check up on my condition for years at a time and I gradually learned to suffer in silence. My condition and their narcotic treatment of it had to worsen so bad I literally had to reach bottom and become tired of living before it occurred to me that maybe something was really wrong.

I was getting violently sick every 72 hours as the timed-release medicine would be processed faster and faster by my liver, and it was fully flushed out of my system a whole day before it was time for the next dose. I had several trips to the ER from withdrawal sickness.

This went on for almost a year and as I got more and more depressed, it slowly hit me that it was the super high dosage (but now completely ineffective) of medicine they were giving me that was causing it.

I may be slow, but I eventually get stuff.

By then I was super angry at everything. Angry at the doctors, angry at missing almost all the extra-curricular activities of my kids high school years, angry at barely having the strength to work 50 hour weeks just to get 40 hours of work done and coming home and collapsing without an ounce of strength left for myself or my family, and even angry at God for putting me through this for more years than I could remember, with absolutely no end in sight.

The prospect of living in that much pain, that depressed, that violently sick every few days, for the rest of my life, was enough to make me not want to live anymore.

Fortunately I had and have a wonderful wife and kids and would never, ever hurt them by purposely hurting myself, because if I did not have them, I'd hate to think what I would have done.

Instead of realizing the medicine they were giving me was making me sick, the doctors actually gave me more. Then they gave me another one on top of that, which made me much more sick and depressed.

After being sick from the pain medicine for over a year and my finally realizing that was actually the real cause (before the doctors figured it out), I went back in to see the pain specialists.

For the first time, I was so desperate, I realized I had no choice but to take a completely hopeless, uncontrollable situation and still try to actually take charge of it.

Did you know YOU can take charge of your health and treatment and not naively leave it to the doctors and "specialists"? Ultimately, you are supposed to be the one in charge of your health and how it is managed, not them.

I went in again to see the doctors and told them there was a new plan (i.e. an actual friggen plan).

I told them that they were going to temporarily rotate me onto another Rx to get the pain and sickness under control and that then a year after that, they were taking me off of all pain medicine altogether.

The new pain specialist I saw was great. He took me off of the two medicines making me sick and rotated me to a different pain Rx, even though it still had to be at a super high dose.

But he also told me that I developed so high a tolerance to pain Rx, that most people who tried to go all the way off of that much, after that many years, were unable to do so. I told him I would see him in a year and he was taking me off, period.

The result of coming off of the medicine was brutal. I started to get violently sick again, on several occasions was awake for more than two days at a time, even with taking literally TWENTY times the regular amount of OTC sleeping pills for weeks at a time, and went through raging mood swings.

I remember locking myself in the bedroom one day and texting Amy: "I have locked myself in the bedroom for a few hours to protect all of you from the Abominable Asshole."

I'm not joking. And I wasn't joking. My body was really pissed at what I was doing and making me feel perpetually pissed as a result. I wouldn't get "upset". I would be hit with unexpected bursts of euphoria and then blind rage as my chemical balances were trying to readjust after so many years.

That hell lasted probably 4 months, because the doctor said I could actually die if they tried tapering off any faster.

But once I was completely off of it... HOORAY! I was in horrible pain again! Yay!

But that's OK.

I also told the doctor before we ever started that I knew full well that would happen.

And yet I also said before we started that severe pain would still be a better quality of life than with the medicine.

And he agreed, that with my natural high tolerance and the nature of my nerve pain, that narcotic Rx would only help for short periods and then gradually become a much worse problem than the pain. I wish I had talked to HIM those 10 years earlier.

After being off of the medicine for a little over a year, I was able to start making plans for something I had wanted to do for years, but simply had no strength for, which was improving my diet and exercise.

Today is day 90, the last day of my P90X program. I still suffer with nerve pain, all day, every day. But I am also happier and healthier than I have been in almost two decades.

Next time: Finishing The P90X Program.

(Part Two is here)

1 comment:

  1. I would say "inspirational", but that would totally sound cheesy, so I won't.