- Posted July 10, 2014 by
Recovering From Hip Surgery Without Opioid Painkillers
It's been about seven years since I was diagnosed with a bulging disc in my lumbar spine and longer since the discovery of the herniated disc in my neck. I've been conservative with my care, with the most drastic treatment being steroids. I've had epidural injections and a seven-day course of Prednisone. The offer of painkillers was never tempting: after removing two and half wisdom teeth (because having an extra wisdom tooth wasn't inconvenient at all,) I was prescribed Vicodin. I didn't know what it was, I just knew I was in pain and I needed it to stop. I popped one waiting for sweet relief and went on with my day. Within twenty minutes I realized my speech was slurred and I couldn't think straight. I can't remember if the pain went away, just that I was nauseous and not feeling right. I took one more the next day, passed out and swore never to take it again. I've since had three more wisdom teeth removed and when offered Vicodin I politely refused. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to feel that way, especially since there were other pain management options.
My aversion to painkillers doesn't just come from personal experience. Its seeing the potential of addiction and the catastrophic effects that come from it. I know I have an addictive personality. I'm definitely addicted to chocolate (I'm not joking, I need at least one serving a day or I am not nice to be around.) I know whenever I have a good experience whether its vacation or nice restaurant, I obsess and can only think of it until I go back. The experience is never the same, and I always feel like I'm chasing the dragon. I know this all sounds silly, but its a real fear. As a mother of two, I can't let anything get in the way of being there for my kids.
A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my right hip. I was told I would need surgery because it would not heal on its own. I figured I would continue to be conservative but it got to the point I couldn't walk without a limp. As a telephone technician in New York City, I often work in manholes. Opening those covers is not easy on the back (in spite of what movies portray) and requires two people. Climbing in and out of the hole became painful. One day, I went into a hole that wasn't very deep. I couldn't find what I was looking for so I attempted to ascend and realized I couldn't lift my right leg. I yelled at my partner up top that I was checking on something; I didn't want him to know I was in trouble. I pulled myself out using mostly upper body strength and then called my husband. I was in tears. I couldn't do it anymore and I decided to schedule the surgery.
My main concern while talking to the surgeon was pain management. I asked what my options were and of course he offered an opioid painkiller. I told him I wasn't interested. He looked at me and said he would prescribe it so I could have it just in case the pain was too much. On surgery day, I told him again along with the nurses that I did not want pain meds. They all looked at me like I was ridiculous. They asked why and I told them about my fear of addiction. They tried to ease my fears and said I wouldn't get addicted that quickly. After the surgery and in a prolonged state of sedation, I was repeatedly asked about my pain levels and if I wanted something. The pain hit and I said yes. I was given an oxycodin. I think it took the pain away but I was also unable to stay awake so who knows. I went home with a prescription of 60 Percocet and 14 Celebrex.
The first week after the surgery I looked at the bottle wondering what would be my breaking point. The night brought the worst pain which I handled with the Celebrex, tylenol and ice packs (oh, those glorious ice packs.) I thought I was in the clear until physical therapy started. The pain just got worse. One night in particular had me waking my husband up to get me ice, as I felt the pain grow in my groin (where the hip pain has always been the worst.) I looked over at my night table, again thinking "stop being hardheaded, what are you trying to prove?" I knew if I took the Tylenol I couldn't take the Percocet (because it too had acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol,) so I popped two with the Celebrex. Want to know something? It worked. It took the pain away. Celebrex could only be taken once a day so I switched to Advil (Ibuprofen) and took it once in the morning and once at night in combination with the Tylenol. Its been four weeks and I have not taken one Percocet.
So, what's the point I'm trying to make? Can you go through chronic pain without opioid painkillers? I can't answer often that for anyone but myself. For me, the risks outweighed the benefits of the medication. My story isn't to say anyone should feel bad or less than because they have to seek out these medications. My pain tolerance might be greater than the next person but that doesn't mean I didn't feel pain. I asked for opinions of friends on social media and they thought I was crazy for not taking them. I wasn't doing some endurance test; I was genuinely afraid of what might happen if I took them. My point is simply this: painkiller addiction is on the rise, as well as the resurgence of heroin use (same high, more accessible.) There are legitimate uses for these medications and its up to both doctors and patients to decide if they are the best treatment options for what that individuals needs. As patients, we need to take responsibility for our own care.
I have another five months of recovery ahead of me. My physical therapy has been very simple but will become more difficult as I move into strengthening my hip. I hope and pray that I will still not need the medication. The pain has gone from acute to diffuse and there's no escaping it. I can, however, cope with OTC medications. My goal is to tell others that it is possible to go through chronic pain and surgery without resorting to painkillers. Is it easy? No, but its possible. Instead of it being the first option, perhaps opioid medications should be the last.