QUITTING PAIN MEDS
To me, the pain was insane, BUT pain meds were even more insane! That’s why I quit them five days after my crash and massive surgery.
My injuries and surgery were extreme.
The accident shattered my neck and upper back from C3 to T2. Nothing was holding my neck and spinal cord in place. During 9-hour surgery, the surgeons cut me open first from the front of my neck and then from back of my neck extending from the base of my skull to my shoulder blades. Then they had to implant two titanium rods and 16 titanium screws to permanently hold my neck together and keep my spinal cord from being crushed and rendering me paralyzed.
My reasons and motivation for ditching the pain meds.
I’m in the ICU room, extreme injuries, unable to walk due to some paralysis, every inch of my body hurt with extreme pain when I made the slightest movement and my brain was numb. And I was thinking, “This is not good at all.” So, just five days post-accident, I declined all narcotic pain medication.
I was afraid of being another statistic in the “prescription addiction” epidemic we’ve all heard so much about in America
My brain was in a deep fog from the injuries AND from the pain meds. I had to eliminate something to start thinking more clearly — and I couldn’t wish my injuries away!
I felt that numbing the pain also numbed any sense of what my body was actually doing/not doing AND what it COULD DO!
I needed to feel it so I could help heal it. The good, the bad and the ugly.
While I was still in the ICU I directed the nurses to not give me any pain medication other than Tylenol. I had to do this on my terms.
I kept telling myself “your brain can help with the pain, you can do this, what did we do before all the opioids were released in America anyway?”
My doctors and nurses were shocked but they respected my determination wholeheartedly.
How I did it: Three key things
#1 Trusting my brain to help me
#2 Simple meditation breathing
#3 Ice/heat release from my injuries
Trusting my Brain to Help: Self-trust, I had to push the limits with self-trust.
My brain was telling me that the pain meds were simply ‘drugging my body’ and that was preventing my body from healing. This is even when I can’t walk and barely move my left arm due to some paralysis at the time. I kept saying to myself “Prescription addiction is not where you are going regardless of pain, you can handle this”. The pain was extreme, tears constantly, but I had to trust my brain.
My brain came through for me! I’ll be honest, at times, the pain simply broke me, for brief moments. It was excruciating. I broke my day up into 6 hours segments and said “Ok you have 6 hours to conquer. Sleep if you can, breathe through the pain, but you can make it 6 hours." At times I asked my deceased Dad to help me out here and I could hear him saying “You can do this Rich, keep with it."
I’d celebrate hitting the 6-hour mark and reset the timer. 6 more hours of mental talk as my body seared in pain with the slightest movement. I did this for about 2 days. I could FEEL it all, and my MIND could process it all. My mind processing it all was the more powerful thing. I WAS NOW IN CONTROL OF MY DESTINY.
My method: Inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds. The pain from my waist to my head was extreme. Especially the back and neck. Off the charts pain that had me in tears often, it hurt so bad.
Simple: Inhale for 3 . . . . Exhale for 10.
I would inhale deeply for three seconds and then exhale slowly for ten seconds. On the 10-second exhale, you have to purse your lips so it’s slow just like blowing through a straw. I did this to ‘release’ the pain I felt mounting in my body. I could actually feel the pain slightly release as I did this. It was very difficult, but it was working. I cried in pain many times but slowly it was working, as was my determination (compliments of my brain).
In the hospital bed I was positioned in a slight incline. I would slide down and the nurses would pull me up via the sheets. One time my back snagged on something and I marginally passed out from the pain. I cried as I completed the 3-second inhale followed by the 10-second slow exhale. That got me over that pain mountain that lasted about 25 minutes straight.
The continual refresh of inhale/exhale through pain spurts (which was 80% of the time) became routine. It refreshed my mind as well.
Meditation Breathing worked! Over time, the pain level was the same but I didn’t perceive the pain “hurting” as much as in the beginning. I truly feel this is due to my meditation breathing practice.
I could now tell what hurt and how much, as well as what was starting to feel better. I can now manage it more and more.
Ice and Heat Release
I laid on ice packs for days on end and did ‘heat release’ of injured areas.
I asked the hospital staff to give me as many ice packs as possible. The only position I could be in was on my back. I would have 6-8 ice packs continuously under my body at my back. I laid on them like a fish on ice. The ice packs, coupled with the meditation breathing, really started to help me. Ice, ice, and more ice. ALL the time. For about five days.
This is going to sound crazy, but here it is: I had a flashback of 8th-grade science class 40 years earlier. The teacher said, “Heat molecules attract to and go toward cold molecules, so if it’s cold outside and you open a window, the heat goes from inside to outside rather than cold coming in."
I had a plan… I asked the nurses to turn the temp of my room as cold as possible. In a couple of hours my room was FREEZING COLD and I told them I wanted it to stay that cold. They would come in to take my vitals and bring new ice packs and they would be shivering. I apologized to them constantly.
I was going to test my science teacher’s heat/cold theory right there in my hospital room. If the heat buildup in my back and neck from injuries and laying on that bed was there then I need to release those heat molecules. Since the room air was as cold as a freezer (it was) my back and neck were full of heat, if I turn slightly on my side exposing my back/neck, then heat from my back and neck SHOULD release and go toward the cold air. It should chase the cold air. IT DID!!!! Each time I did this, I felt marginally a bit better. I know this sounds crazy, but it worked!!! The inflammation from my injuries creates more heat more pain, more everything. The heat release dissipated some of that as it chased the cold air.
How long did it take to realize I could handle the full pain? About four days.
The entire process of being able to handle/manage the pain, though still extreme, WITHOUT pain medicine took about four days. Lots of tears but NO PAIN PILLS.
It was at this time, about the 4th day after ditching the pain medicine, though I continually passed out trying to stand, I finally stood. Eight days without being able to stand/walk, my legs finally worked in conjunction with my spinal injury issues and it was VERY PAINFUL but so worth feeling that pain.
I was in pretty severe pain for about another 3-4 months, but it was ‘manageable’ by doing all this all the time. All without ANY pain medicine.
Every nurse that did shift change was shocked I quit the pain meds, and ALL complimented me and expressed how happy they were to see the determination and will through pain pay off.
The neurosurgeon trying to figure out if or when I’ll be able to walk would visit twice a day. Each day, “Still off the pain medicine I see.” Me, “Yes, I don’t want that stuff.” Finally, he said, “You should be a spokesperson on how to get off that stuff and do what you did.”