“You Should go to Rehab”

I wanted to share a story about the absolute humiliation I suffered at the hands of an anesthesiologist a week or so ago.  You are welcome to disseminate it, but please do not use my name.

I am an attorney and I went to a top law school. In 2013 I fractured my back.  I had been working for a top law firm and was out on short term disability.  However, my back was not healing and I was experiencing many setbacks and joint pain in my fingers, hips and knees.  After six months my job released my position to someone else and I was, essentially, without work. I had to fight the insurance company for long term disability and, while doing that, I cashed in all my savings and 401k to live.  After almost a year of fighting, they settled with me for 35k which I had to pay 40 percent to my attorney.  I was not getting better and physically I was crumbling.  In 2016, after 3 years of procedures and rounds of doctors, I was given a double-stranded DNA test and it came back that I had Lupus.  I also have chronic venous insufficiency,  advanced osteoporosis and a (so far) benign tumor in my knee.  I was slowly developing chronic nerve issues in my hands and feet.  Sometimes the pain is so bad in my feet, I could not wear shoes. 

I went back to work last year although I am in a lot of pain most of the time.  I needed the insurance and the money. I no longer work for large law firms where the big money is.  I work for a small law firm making less than 6 figures.  It’s really not a great position to be in but it is what it is. I can’t NOT work.  I wanted to apply for SSDI but I can’t go the many months it takes to get approved or denied and then you have sue them. I live from paycheck to paycheck right now.  My rent is often late and my landlord is exasperated.  But I’m trying my best to show up for work 5 – sometimes 6 – days a week.  We don’t have the option to work from home and some weeks are very long hours and very painful. 

My pain management doctor is wonderful.  After the back fracture (I fractured 4 vertebrae and was in a back brace for almost a year) I was once on 6 oxycodone 15 mg and a Fentynal patch. I was having horrible GI issues on the oxycodone and my dr wanted to switch me to morphine but the word “morphine” scared me as I cared for my husband when he was dying from cancer and at the end they prescribed morphine for him.  I fought it for a long time but my doctor told me that all his patients that had issues with stomach upset on other opioids did well on morphine.  Plus I was a self-pay patient and it costs less.  I agreed but only if we could get rid of the patch and go to 3 morphine a day.  We slowly did that and I returned to work. I could not, however, get through a day. I would be in agonizing  pain by 4 pm and I would have another 3-4 hours of work and then an hour commute home.  So we increased the morphine (which caused NO stomach upset) to 4 a day.  I was on 4 a day for almost a year and then I began to have more pain. I battled increasing it for a while, but after a while I was in so much pain, I had to increase it to 5 and told him please don’t let me ever go to 6.  I’m not happy being on 5 but it is what it is.

The nerve issues continued and he put me on Gabapentin and THAT made me sick.  He switched me to Lyrica.  We both fought the insurance company to get the Lyrica approved….and it made SO MUCH of a difference.  Not perfect, but the 5 morphine plus 2 Lyrica a day helps me in a great way.  My rheumatologist increased my Plaquenil and ordered cortisone shots in my hips (which keep me up at night).  If the shots don’t work (and it seems as if they don’t) he has to switch me to a more powerful drug than the Plaquenil.  One with many side effects. I’m trying to stay on the Plaquenil.  My rheumatologist said it’s very obvious the Lupus is progressing.  The symptoms are getting worse.  He agreed with my pain management doctor that the Lyrica is a good idea. I also take Tizanidine for muscle spasms. It puts me to sleep so I can only take it at night.  

I continue to have GI issues so my gastroenterologist ordered an endoscopy. This is where the story comes in. I once had a reaction – a bad reaction – to the medication for “twilight” sleep so I asked that they put me out completely.  When I had that reaction, my husband was with me and managed to calm me down.  I had been in such pain, I thought I was dying.

The first person to come in told me the anesthesiologist is a great guy, who jokes around and she went to med school with him and I’m going to love him.  She said not to worry I was in good hands. 

So the anesthesiologist she was talking about comes in and does start joking with me.  Then he reviews my medications and gets very serious and says, “Why are you on all these pain medications?” I said because I have Lupus and advanced osteoporosis and other issues.  He said, “I can’t give you a lot of anesthesia with you being on all these drugs.”  I said, “I was on them when I had my colonoscopy just a few months ago.” He said, “Whomever is prescribing all this for you should lose his license.  This is ridiculous.”  

We talked about twilight sleep and I told him my story and that my husband was no longer here and I started to cry.  He said, “If you don’t want twilight sleep, you shouldn’t be on all these drugs.”  It was a very uncomfortable moment.  I wanted to leave right then and there. 

I was waiting to go in and the anesthesiologist was coming into the room and asking those who had already had their procedures how they were.  I had been told he was a nice guy, but every time he came over, he seemed angry at me.  When we went into the room he sprayed something in my throat to numb it and said it might taste awful.  When he sprayed it, I said “It’s not so bad.”  The nurse said, “Don’t encourage him.” And he said “An opioid patient is never going to encourage me.”  I thought, “What? When did my identity become that? ”  Everyone in the room looked uncomfortable. 

After my procedure he came in the room but wouldn’t even look at me. He passed me a few times to go to the others and ask how they were feeling.   After a time, the nurse started to unhook my IV and said I could get dressed.  Just then he came in and said to me, within earshot of all the others in the room, “You need to figure out how to get off all these drugs.”  I said, “I can’t function without them. I need to work and even lowering them makes the pain so unbearable I can’t work.  Even ON them there are days when it’s unbearable.  I don’t have the choice of going home. I have to power through.”  He said, “Well that’s ridiculous, everyone has days they don’t feel good.  They don’t have the option of taking morphine and Lyrica all day long.  It’s crazy to be on that level of pain medication.  Especially for a lawyer. I wouldn’t want my lawyer to be on opioids.  You should go to rehab.”  And with that he walked out of the room. I started to cry and the nurse who had been standing there for the whole thing, said nothing.  She just kept unhooking the IV and never looked at me. 

I felt so humiliated.  I’m fighting to stay on my job. I have days where it’s so difficult even with the medications.  The Lupus is progressing and I don’t know what else to do.  The support hose I have to wear for the chronic venous insufficiency aggravates the nerves in my feet.  Some days I can barely stand having shoes on.  The experience was SO humiliating.  I am a good attorney.  I’m not some crazed opioid freak who can’t practice law successfully. I have had a lot of success in my career.  I can’t understand how he tied that together.  It was terrible.  I work every day. It’s HARD to go to work every day.  I struggle every morning to get up and get out.  There was no credit for doing that.  He acted like I’m just sailing through life because I’m on pain medication.  Pain meds do not get me high.  They do nothing for me except relieve the pain and some days they barely do that.  They don’t affect my thinking and they certainly don’t affect how I practice law.  It’s horrible for someone to suggest I can’t do my job and take pain medication at the same time.  If I DON’T take pain medication I can’t do my job. I have illustrated that by trying to reduce them in the past. 

I don’t understand how doctors think they have the right to talk to patients like that. It’s terrible.