Life After Pain Meds

By Dana Stephenson, Guest Columnist

It was a warm October afternoon in 1997 when my boyfriend called and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. Being from the northeast and motorcycle season was almost coming to an end, I said sure.

I often wonder how my life would have played out if I had just stayed home that day.

It started out as a normal ride with another friend, until the friend took off down a back road. Being just 18, my boyfriend took off after him. Long story short, the road turned and we did not. We slammed head-on into a telephone pole at 85 mph. The brakes on a motorcycle don't work so well when the wheels aren't touching the ground.

I was airlifted to a hospital and was in critical condition for several weeks. I spent 10 months in the hospital and had at least eight surgeries for a fractured spine and pelvic bone, pierced colon, and bruised heart, lungs and kidney. On the outside, I only had a few scratches but I was lucky to be alive at all, considering I wasn't wearing a helmet. 

Sadly, the worst was yet to come.  I kept asking the nurses, “Where’s Mike?” The nurses would act like they couldn't hear me. I understand now they were just doing their job, but at the time I thought I was going crazy.

Three days into my hospital stay, I asked my dad the same question. He gave a simple reply, four words that I'll never forget: "He didn't make it."

Not only was this my first experience with broken bones, surgery and stitches, it was also my first experience with death.

Pain medications were necessary, along with some counseling. I made it out of the wheelchair, off the walker, and then finally the crutches. The doctors called me a walking, talking miracle.

After a few years they transferred me to pain management and I slowly began developing a new problem. To people that didn't know my story, I appeared to be normal. Pharmacists always gave me the impression that they thought I was a drug addict. Why is this young, healthy-looking girl taking such high doses of painkillers? Over the years this began to bother me more and more.

Ten years after my accident, I finally decided to get a spinal fusion, hoping the pain would go away and the social judgement would finally stop. Well, that didn't go as planned. In the 10 years since my initial fracture, I had developed scoliosis. During surgery the doctor pulled so hard on my spine, trying to get it as straight as possible before screwing it in place, he ended up re-fracturing it. Now I was in worse shape than before. 

 DANA STEPHENSON

DANA STEPHENSON

Yet a new chapter of my life began. I had to accept that at age 29, I was going to have to file for disability. After a two-year struggle they approved my application, after first denying it because of my age. That's not even legal.

After 15 years of being in pain and treated like a junkie, I had enough. It was time to get off all pain medication. I went the Suboxone route and it definitely helped with the withdrawals. After a few years I quit that too.

Of course, I'm still in a lot of pain but taking the medications again is just not worth it to me. I moved away from home, so I wouldn’t be tempted to bum pills off my old connections.

I can honestly say I haven touched a pain pill in over 5 years. It's not easy, but I'm going to be in pain with or without the pills.

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Dana Stephenson lives in Florida.

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.