By Drew Pavilonis, Guest Columnist
I was a federal law enforcement officer with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for 14 years. Hard work, a willingness to transfer, and a graduate degree brought fast promotions and a coveted position in management at a DOJ training academy just outside of Denver.
However, a rare type of brain tumor deep in the thalamus brought everything to a sudden halt after ten years in Denver. My doctors initially said the brain tumor was inoperable due to its sensitive location, but the tumor continued to grow, and I eventually flew to Phoenix to have a talented neurosurgeon perform the difficult surgery to remove it.
The thalamus and brainstem proved to be a very challenging surgery and I suffered permanent disability because of it. I spent several months as an inpatient at a neuro-rehabilitation hospital, relearning how to walk and speak, dress and bath myself.
The DOJ medically retired me because cripples can't be law enforcement officers. Fortunately, I had 19 years of federal service and was able to retire with a pension, which was a good thing since I was not able to work due to my significant disability.
However, the suffering didn’t end there. I developed chronic, debilitating pain 3 years after the surgery.
Fortunately, at the urging of my sister, I had moved close to Duke University Hospital in North Carolina for follow up medical care. The doctors at Duke hypothesized that my pain was due to scar tissue that formed in my thalamus after the brain surgery. The thalamus is the brain's pain center and my pain “switch” had been permanently turned on.
I was bedridden and prayed for death daily. The pain was so bad that I could not walk. I was taken by ambulance to Duke Hospital for a one week stay as an inpatient and was medically tested to the extreme. Eventually, the doctors determined that I had real pain and referred me to pain management.
I was prescribed methadone, four times a day. Additionally, to fight the debilitating nerve pain that I also have, I was put on the maximum dose of gabapentin. The medications just allow me to live, much like diabetics need insulin to survive. I am always in pain, but the medications control it to a tolerable level.
I am able to travel internationally (I write this from my hotel room in Berlin, Germany), do volunteer work, and ride an outdoor wheelchair. However, I worry that that I will someday become collateral damage in this “war on opioids.”
I cringe every time I see a journalist cite the CDC report about opioid related deaths in America. That report was full of errors and incorrect by the CDC's own admission. Also concerning are the jack-booted tactics of the DEA, which attacks legitimate pain treatment as if doctors were responsible for all the heroin in the country.
Those rogue tactics have had a chilling effect on the practice of pain management and contributed to a growing number of patient suicides. Many chronic pain patients have taken their own lives because they could not get the appropriate medication that they so desperately need to live.
I never thought I would see human rights violations conducted by my own government against fellow Americans. It is unbelievable. I no longer tell people that I am retired from the DOJ because I am ashamed of it. I just say that I’m retired from the federal government. That's sad.
Drew Pavilonis lives in North Carolina.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.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.