On July 31 I underwent surgery for a complete knee replacement. I’ve had this surgery before, so I thought I knew what to expect. Little did I know! When I finally awakened, I was in excruciating pain, worse than I had ever experienced. I have a high pain threshold, so this was totally unexpected. I could not hold back the moans and groans.
The attending nurse immediately injected morphine into the portal in my arm. It was effective almost immediately, but that relief was fleeting. Before long the pain returned with vengeance, and I was given more morphine.
Morphine is effective almost immediately, but the effect is brief, so something more was needed. Oxycontin, having a longer effect, replaced the morphine. That did the trick.
Now, I am not terribly informed concerning drugs, but you can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the drug problem in our country today. I did know that Oxcycontin is an opioid, and long term use can lead to addiction. That scared me. I didn’t want to take it at all, but I didn’t want to hurt either.
I can’t tell you how many times a day nurses asked me, “From 1 – 10 how aggressive is your pain?” I didn’t know how to rate the pain. It just hurt.
When I was moved to rehab, I was told I could have the pain medication every four hours, but I determined not to ask for it unless I was dying.
Nurses didn’t understand. “Don’t wait until you are hurting,” they scolded. “You have to stay ahead of the pain.” In other words, “Ask for it before you need it,” but I didn’t. Sometimes my physical therapist asked, “Don’t you want a pain pill before we go to work”? I admit that I did ask for one at night, so I could sleep. When I was released from rehab, I was given a prescription for Oxycontin, which I tore up, when I got home.
Perhaps I was too cautious, but there is a serious problem—an epidemic—with Opioids, in our beloved country today. An average of 130 Americans die every day from an Opioid overdose. 21 – 29 percent of patients who were prescribed these drugs for chronic pain end up misusing them, and about 80 percent of people who use Heroin, previously misused prescription drugs.
This crisis can be traced back to the 1990’s when the pain became the “fifth vital sign,” and pharmaceuticals became the primary treatment. Somehow patients were led to believe that they need never hurt, but an over-reliance on drugs has helped to fuel this epidemic.
Today, some doctors readily admit that the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry are a major part of the drug addiction problem in our country.
Drugs are pushed everywhere we look. On television, on billboards, on the radio, this multibillion dollar industry peddles its wares 24/7.
Pain is not a vital sign nor is it a disease. It does not fall into the same category as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. It is a highly subjective symptom, which cannot not be measured with number scales and smiley faces.
I have friends who suffer chronic pain. It never goes away, so it is not my desire to offend anyone. However, pain is a part of life, and when healthcare providers prioritize pain it’s easier for a patient to become fixated on it. The more he thinks about it the bigger it gets, so he looks for a medication fix. Depending on how it is used, that medication fix has the potential to become a greater pain than the pain itself.
Admittedly, I do not have the answer to this widespread catastrophe, but I have decided to stay informed, to be cautious, and to cultivate a heart of compassion for those who have fallen victim.
Physical pain, of course, is not the only pain suffered in this life. There is the pain of loss, the pain of failure, the pain of fear and aloneness, the pain of rejection, and the list goes on. A medical doctor and drugs can do nothing to touch or alleviate such pain, but I know someone who can.
In Isaiah 61:1-2 (The Message) Jesus told us that God sent Him to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to set captives free, and to comfort those who mourn.
Again Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God…”
This just simply means that when you are in over your head, when you are in rough waters, when you are between a rock and a hard place, when your life is broken in some way, God will be there.
You want to stay ahead of the pain? Trust in Jesus. He will not allow the pains of this life to destroy you. He is more powerful than any drug, and you cannot overdose on the promises and reality of God.
Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!