Last night, at around 4am, I awoke and crept out of bed into the kitchen without waking my sleeping wife. It wasn't a desire for a glass of water or hot milk that woke me. Instead it was pain and the need to take some pain killers, just like many other nights before. I placed my effervescent Co-codamol tablets in a small glass of water and wheeled around the kitchen as they dissolved, with the pain tearing at me like a dog gnawing at my insides. Finally I threw the medication down my throat and slipped back into bed. I laid there reading my Kindle waiting for the pills to kick in. After about half an hour the pain dulled, and I tried to go back to sleep. This night, as with many, sleep was beyond me as the pain didn't lessen enough to allow me to drift into the land of nod. Instead I tossed and turned in bed until around 6.30am, before sleep gripped me. I awoke at 9am, and began writing this. I felt I had to as recently the press and media has been filled with stories highlighting the problem of over prescription of Opiate pain medication, especially in the US, and the resulting issues around addiction. However they rarely include the experience of the many people who live with high levels of chronic pain everyday, for whom this kind of medicinal help are a life line. Due to this all these stories are doing is creating a biased stereotype of the type of people who take opiates. Let me tell you the truth.
My relationship started with pain at birth. In fact I was recently told that I would have been in pain before I was born, so I knew pain before I knew anything else. I was born with a rare type of cancer called Neruoblastoma, and by the age of 6 weeks it was the size of a tennis ball in my abdomen and had also spread into my spine. From birth all I did was cry, and it was only when the tumour got so large it pushed on my lungs and stopped me being able to breathe, let alone cry, that the cancer was noticed. Luckily I was cured, and am still here today. However I was left with a paralyzed right leg, causing me to feel pain whenever I walked. Then at the age of 15 my spine collapsed as a side effect of the cancer treatment. This led to me becoming a wheelchair user, paralyzed in both legs and with nerves trapped in the wreckage of the spine. These nerves caused my pain levels to jump and led to 35 years of chronic pain. The pain was the most difficult thing to get used to back then, and it was behind my suicide attempt just before my 17th birthday. Eventually I found various treatments for the pain and got used to living with it. I now live a happy productive life with my pain as a constant companion. I know how lucky I am to have reached this point, with many other people who live with pain unable to achieve a treatment that means they can do anything other than just survive.
The key issue is that the type of pain that people like me live with is unlike what most people think of as pain. Recently my Mum has found herself struck with one of the joys of aging, Arthritis. Her knee has swelled up and she is finding it very hard to walk and to sleep. She was given pain killers similar to the ones I take but found them too strong to take. So she took paracetamol, and found herself able to sleep. Without taking anything away from the pain she is experiencing, if your pain is such that weak medication like Paracetamol allows you to sleep your pain levels are nothing like the ones Opiates should be prescribed to help. I have a permanently fractured right ankle, a permanently dislocated right hip, arthritis in both shoulders and neuralgic pain due to the trapped nerves that creates phantom pains throughout my lower half of my body. These manifest themselves as a feeling like rats eating my feet and being stabbed in my legs and feet by blades of various sizes and sharpnesses (and temperatures strangely). This is every day. On top of this I also experience pain called "break through pain", where all of my usual pain gets put through a Spinal Tap style amplification and is turned up to eleven. When these periods happen I am beside myself with pain and would say that my mental state is such that I am a danger to myself. Luckily these periods last a week at the most, but when they occur I am unable to sleep or even eat much. I just spend all my energy fighting the pain.
I know many people who live with pain similar to mine, and many others whose pain manifests itself totally differently. However pain touches them, it needs treating to allow them to live anything near a normal life. So please, when you next see some shock horror story about the over prescription of pain medication remember that while it is an issue, there are many people out there who rely on Opiates to get on with life. They aren't addicted any more than a cancer patient is addicted to chemotherapy. It's a life saving treatment and if the press or media haven't bothered to include the views of those who experience high level pain then the story isn't worth taking notice off. Trust me, the numbers of people who need this treatment path far out ways those who are taking pain medication due to an addiction and the media needs to start telling that story. But I suppose there's no shock horror in that eh?