Pain: Saturday Night ER (Part 2)


There is a woman, frayed, agitated, hunched. She braces herself on the hospital exam table, willing her arms to grow longer, holding her up, lengthening to decompress her spine; her head tilts to one side, her eyes dart around the emergency room with imploring shadows for pupils. She is neatly kept - but only by a thread. The woman has a grown-out dye-job, it’s been months since her last touch-up, her grey hair stripes her scalp. Seated near, in a blue-speckled, molded chair, playing with her teddy-bear is a little girl in pink pajamas, her elastic pull-ups peek over her waistband, and a disheveled strand of hair keeps falling-out from behind her ear. It’s Saturday night. 

“You need to understand, my granddaughter accidentally poured my pain meds into the toilet to watch it swirl and go ‘bye-bye’.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t refill your hydrocodone. Your record indicates you are not due for a refill for another two weeks, you need to wait until Monday and speak with your regular physician.” The ER doctor informs without sympathy. 

“But, my sciatic... I can’t pick-up my grandbaby, I can barely walk 10 feet, and her mother is working the night shift at Walmart.”

“Let me see what we can do,” the Doctor walks-out and pulls the drab grey curtain behind him. The woman swallows a moan.

“Yeah right, toilet flush.” A Doctor wraps a stethoscope over his shoulders, and rolls his eyes at a nurse, the comment was not meant to be heard by anyone else. 

    I understand the pain. It is debilitating and all consuming, and we hide the enormity from others, we do not want to be a burden, we want to continue as if there is nothing wrong. But, there is something very wrong. I now understand how people end up addicted to pain meds. 

    The human back, as a supporter of burden, is a speciation disaster; an evolutionary fault; never selected against; bearing it’s weakness only after the age of procreation. I have spent a lifetime taking advantage of my spine. My bad back is from a life of privilege - rowing, aerobics, standing and sitting as a volunteer, a bookkeeper; a writer. I had the occasional back-ache -- left me in bed for a day, ice and ibuprofen. 

    I rebounded with exercises; eventually, my spine was abused too far. The disc, a little cushion between bones, bulged like an overwrought bicycle tube warting between a split of hard rubber tire. The disc pressed on my sciatic nerve and shot a fire of ice down my leg, the burn crippling. Incapacitated like an old gazelle, I was unable to run, walk, or spring, ensnared by the lion’s incisors slicing down my leg. Age is not your friend, your body will betray you, and now I am at the mercy of my herd to take care of me. 

    My family cares for me. My insurance, for any excuse, denies my care. More than half my physical therapy was deemed “unnecessary” -- only refused after the appointment -- after I had sworn to pay regardless. As I approached my six-thousand dollar deductible, the insurance rejected more and more claims. I am out-of-my-mind with pain, trying to do the mom thing, the work thing, the wife thing - I have no wherewithal to do the insurance thing. What I need is relief.

    Pills help me work, pills help me sleep, pills help me function. I lose track of my pill schedule. There’s an app for that. It seems longer and longer between my scheduled dosages, and shorter and shorter are the painful minutes. I never took opioids -- I lie -- I took one, left over from an oral surgery. It got me through the first night. It got me through until I got in to see a “specialist” -- paved with a six-thousand dollar deductible. I still take pills, just not the addictive ones. 

    I hope to avoid surgery. I am currently doing my exercises, bought myself an inversion table, and am paying out-of-pocket for an alternative therapy. I am cautiously optimistic. Truth is - there is no long-term cure, only care. Even if surgery goes well most depend on anti-inflammatories indefinitely. Moreover, the idea of slicing-off my disc sounds barbaric. What does removal of part of my disc accomplish? Compensation from the lumbar above and below, and more problems, more pills and more bills.   

As easy as a Saturday night in an emergency room.