By Craig Bowden, Guest Columnist
I am 46 years old and have had a very good life until the last few years, when chronic pain stole all of my professional aspirations, and put the love of my family and my wife to an extreme test.
For the last 25 years I've been in the communications industry, mostly involved with fiber optic technology. I also worked in a metal casting foundry, which is when I had a severe motorcycle accident that gave me a concussion, shattered my right arm at the elbow, and left me with many small fractures and bone chips in my wrists.
The pain was intense, but I never complained about it. I followed doctor’s orders in terms of medications and physical therapy, and it still required 5 surgeries before my right arm had some limited function. I never focused on the pain, I focused on recovery. Although this happened over 20 years ago, I still live with the pain from those injuries every day.
Needless to say, my foundry days were done and I needed to find a career that would work with my limited right arm.
Over the years, I've been involved in a number of other accidents, including a head-on crash at an intersection where the oncoming driver was trying to beat a red light, swerved to miss another vehicle and hit my car head on at 60 mph. That crash broke two of my ribs and smashed my knees up pretty bad.
Years later, I broke my left wrist in a slip/fall accident. It happened so fast and broke my wrist in the worst possible way. Fortunately, I was able to get patched up again.
The reason I share these stories is because I want you to understand that I'm not an addict, nor will I ever be. Pain medication was something I never abused. I only needed relief to get a few hours of sleep or to spend time with my kids. I used pain medication sparingly because I didn't like the way it made me feel in the head. I mostly used ice and survived just fine.
But bigger problems were on the way.
As years passed, I became somewhat of an expert in the field of fiber optics. I traveled and worked with many companies across the U.S. I also started my own fiber optic business in 2003 in my garage. It was a bumpy start, but soon we were selling over $6 million annually and facing huge opportunities. Then I hit a wall. The pain wall.
I was working on a project when I had sharp acute pain in my lower left abdomen. It was very intense, but being no stranger to pain (and surrounded by clients), I pushed through and nobody was any wiser that I was suffering. I was sweating uncontrollably, shaking all over, dizzy and even slurring some of my speech. I continued to work 3 more days before finally seeing my primary care doc.
They put me through a day’s worth of tests such as ultrasound (looking for hernia), HIDA scan (gallbladder) and others until they finally got me in for a cat scan. Bam! Bad news. I had a perforated colon that required immediate antibiotics and emergency surgery. I had been living for almost 5 days with a severe sepsis infection and everyone agreed that I was lucky to have survived. But I didn't complain about the pain.
Over the next several years, I endured 8 more abdominal surgeries, plus many other hospital admissions for strangulated bowel or bowel rest, along with countless other visits to ERs with uncontrolled pain.
As an unwanted byproduct of all these surgeries, I developed "ARD" or Adhesion Related Disorder, also known as Adhesions Disease. Adhesions are like scar tissues and can cause organs to stick together like glue. Most people develop some form of adhesion post-surgery, but for some reason my body just keeps churning out adhesions like an assembly line.
Many of the surgeries I've had were exploratory, or in other words: "We don't know what's causing all the pain so we need to look around.” Once the doctors cut me open, I'd be on the operating table for 10-12 hours while they cut away the fibrous adhesions. I became very aware of the early warning signs of a blockage or strangulated bowel.
I am very pragmatic when it comes to pain. I believe that a "1" on the pain scale is when you stub your toe on a table leg and a "10" is the point at which I would black out from excessive pain (which has happened to me twice). I've had numerous instances of a 9/10 pain scale and would be screaming uncontrollably in the ER.
Many of my hospital visits helped get the pain under control, but when I went home, I used pain drugs sparingly. I always recovered from the surgeries in 40 to 60 days and went right back to working 80-100 hour a week. I never gave a thought to the pain meds once I was up and running again.
Who are these people who think using oxycodone for pain control is a gateway to drug abuse? Using their logic, I should be a serious heroin and crack abuser by now, but I've never even tried illegal drugs.
In 2015, my surgeon put me on high doses of fentanyl and oxycodone, enough to kill a "normal" person from respiratory failure. Two years later I’m still alive, have successfully weaned myself to a lower dose and I'm not an addict. So my primary care physician and my pharmacy shouldn't treat me like one! But the CDC guidelines have everyone under a microscope, so they're cutting back access to people in genuine pain.
I only have 6 feet of small intestine remaining, which is inside a dense ball of adhesions. Operating on it would be very risky and could cause pancreatitis. There is not enough small bowel to properly absorb food, so I take many vitamins and supplements as well as motility and pain meds. I had to sell my company, which was heartbreaking, but I simply couldn't run it anymore. My wife stayed with me 24 hours a day, every day, while I was hospitalized.
I now attend a specialty clinic that uses a blend of massage, myofacial holds, physical therapy and strong palpation on the abdomen to take down adhesions and loosen my tissues so I can move. I feel certain this amazing treatment has kept me out of surgery. In terms of pain, my very best day is a 3 or 4 on the pain scale and my worst can spike to 7 or 8 at times.
I’ve thought about ending things with a bullet to the head countless times. But I just can't insult my wife, kids, family and friends who stuck with me through all this by taking the easy way out.
Chronic pain patients like myself should not be vilified as criminals, but the CDC guidelines have set in motion a vast effort to control the flow of opioids. Doctors are leery to prescribe pain medication, pharmacists don't want to fill the scripts and they all look at patients with a glare of mistrust.
I'd give ANYTHING to give real, severe and unrelenting pain to some of these CDC bureaucrats and see how they tolerate it like I do every day. They should walk a mile in my shoes first.
Craig Bowden lives in Florida with his family.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.