Getting off Painkillers With Lidocaine Infusions

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

I keep telling myself I’ll write about my weekly lidocaine infusions when I finally have everything figured out. 

I just need to figure out how to pay the $80-a-week co-pay, figure out who can drive me two hours each way to the hospital, and figure out how to manage the extreme fatigue I endure for at least 24 hours after each infusion. And I need to figure out how I can possibly do this every single Friday for the rest of my life.  

And then, once I figure everything out, I can tell you guys how I solved all of it and you will think I’m awesome. 

But I can’t freaking figure anything out.

I started the infusions this summer at the suggestion of my pain management doctor. I did a trial run, which was completely insane, but actually worked to cure my chronic pain for six days. And then I decided to continue the treatments weekly, because that’s how long it lasts for me. 

The first infusion was intense. Symptoms included: randomly crying and laughing because I lost control of my emotions, my lips going numb, extreme fatigue, losing coordination in my legs, nausea, and not being able to make basic life choices afterward — to the extent that I couldn’t even pick out which rice I wanted at Qdoba.  

Thankfully, the symptoms seem to be less intense as you get more of the infusions. I’m still extremely tired after each one though, and unable to drive, and my heart always feels weak. Also, I still can never decide on which rice to get. But I don’t feel like I’ve lost my mind each time. 

Each one takes about two hours at the hospital from start to finish, but that also include a saline flush at the end. I also need a full 24 hours to recover from every single one. And it’s not like an “Oh, I’m so high and this is fun!” 24 hours. It’s more of a hangover/flu/fatigue 24 hours. 

IMG_0707.JPG

Also, like I said above, I have an $80 co-pay every week that I cannot afford at all. But actually that’s a great deal because the total bill for each one is about $500. I’m blessed to work full-time from home and have great insurance that mostly covers it. As far as chronic pain patients go, I’m probably in the top 1 percent. But it’s still too much for me. 

Honestly though, the hardest part has been finding rides. It’s a two-hour drive each way I’m and way too out of it afterward to drive myself. I have not been able to find anyone locally who does the infusions because the treatment is relatively new for chronic pain. And my town is so rural that we don’t even have Uber. If I ever have to stop the infusions, it will probably be because of that.

At this point you might be asking, “Crystal, this sounds like A LOT! Why are you even doing this? Why not just stick with hydrocodone?”

Because it freaking works. Really freaking well. And I kind of hate that it works because it is a traumatic experience every time, and I literally lose a day of my life every week and have no money. 

But dang if I haven’t had the best summer of my (post-pain) life this year. I’ve lost 33 pounds. I’ve been walking about six miles a day, six days a week. And while I still have some flares, I have entire pain-free days with NO hydrocodone or any other types of pain meds. And that means I get to live my life AND have complete mental clarity. In short, my quality of life has improved dramatically. 

It’s been miraculous. And thus, I am highly motivated to continue this treatment. 

Since starting the infusions, I have discovered a few helpful things. For example, drinking a full-sugar Gatorade and eating a Snicker’s bar right before the infusion seems to help with the fatigue. And doing a longer saline flush also helps with the after-effects. 

Also, the less I do physically the day of the infusion, the easier it is for me to recover afterward. And it’s important to wear extremely comfortable clothes and a large sweater regardless of the weather because the medication messes with your body temperature. 

I have not figured out the transportation yet, obviously. I actually called my insurance company today to ask if they had any suggestions, and they literally said, “Have you tried Googling it?” 

Yes. I have tried Googling it. 

IMG_1469.JPG

I also called the hospital and they told me the only transportation they do is with an ambulance. Cool. Thanks. 

I’ve called a million local pain doctors and infusion centers and had appointments with a handful of them trying to find a local provider. One pain doctor said he could do them for me once a month, but that’s not enough and I’d just end up going on and off hydrocodone all the time. 

Every time I talk to a new pain doctor I beg them to start or expand this treatment so that others with chronic pain can get the same relief I do. 

With all the anti-opioid hysteria you would think doctors would be begging patients to try treatments like this. But alas, they are still sticking to the classic list of things that don’t really work — mindfulness, Cymbalta, nerve blocks, epidurals, and my personal favorite: “You should be taking fewer meds but I have no alternatives to offer.”

In contrast, research is showing that lidocaine infusions can be very effective. In a study recently published in Pain Medicine, they were shown to provide long-lasting and adequate analgesia in 41 percent of patients with chronic pain, most of whom had neuropathic pain. 

I am holding out hope that treatments like this will become more common and less expensive. But there’s another part of me that does worry that pumping my body full of an intense drug every week could have long-term effects that haven’t been discovered yet. 

In the end of course, treatment decisions like this have to be made on an individual level. Only you and your doctor can decide if getting drugged every week is worth it for six pain-free days.

For me though, it definitely is. 

IMG_1336.JPG

Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.