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A stone and a stent: taking narcotics in my sobriety

A stone and a stent: taking narcotics in my sobriety

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I attempting to dispense medical advise to anyone who’s in recovery.  This article is nothing more than my sharing my experience with narcotics during a health issue, and my particular solution may not be for you.  How you respond to a situation like this is an individual choice; there is no right or wrong way.  If you are in recovery and get something out of it, then great.  If not, that’s ok too.  


Last month, I woke up out of a dead sleep with a stabbing pain in my lower back that I’d never felt in my life.  I had no clue what the hell this was: muscle spasm from hell, maybe? Half-asleep, I stumbled downstairs to the bathroom to have a leak and that was a chore in itself.  Maybe I can just sleep this off and when I get up to workout it’ll be gone.

No. Such. Luck.

I woke up every 20 minutes with this pain in my side escalating more and more so I gave up.  Hit the coffee pot button and get that going, figure out my next moves and that boiled down to one thing: emergency room.  I called work and told them I wasn’t coming, hobbled to the car and off I went with every pothole in the street sending me into orbit when I hit it.  The rest of this part of the tale boils down to a few points:

  • Go the ER, wait 5 hours in agony before they even call my name.  When they do it’s to get my insurance information and send me back to the waiting room
  • Two more hours, finally get called.
  • Drop a urine sample (primarily blood), get hooked up to a few beeping machines, IV stent, CAT scan and bingo!  You’re the proud owner of the mother of all kidney stones.

All the cliches about men and kidney stones are true.  That pain is the closest you’ll get a guy to understanding the pain of childbirth.  In the ER, they hit me with a prescription for painkillers, a referral to Urology and bid me good luck.

(Insert loud sound of screeching brakes here…)  Painkillers?  Yeah, about that…

The thought of this immediately confuses me and fills me with dread.  As of December 26th of this year, I will celebrate 25 years sober, and I define that as having abstained from anything that affects me from the neck up.  I’m an alcoholic and an addict, so having a doctor hand me prescriptions for substances that I could potentially abuse is scary shit and revives a lot of old memories. There was a time when I did pain killers a’plenty.  I wasn’t a specialist; there wasn’t a particular painkiller I preferred over another one. My drug of choice was “what do you have?”  I took whatever was in front of me, usually washed it down with whatever alcohol was handy and called it a day.  During the height of my using, I shot heroin daily and at the end I was a cheap ten dollar whore who’d blow you for whatever change you’d throw my way so I could support my habit.  My living arrangements were also the height of opulence; I was living in a men’s room stall at the bus station.

Back to me on the gurney with Dr. Hotness standing before me showing me the picture of the kidney stone in my guts. He explained that it was just too big to pass on it’s own, and if it tried to I’d certainly wish I were dead. His guess on the dimensions were 4mm by 8mm; which would be approximately the size of a large BB.  I tried to protest the drugs, and here’s how that went:

“You did see in my chart that I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, right?”

“Yep.  And if you don’t take the pain meds you’ll be a recovering alcoholic and addict who’ll wish he were dead when this stone tries to hit the exit ramp”

“Isn’t there anything lowball I can take?”

“The amount of aspirin you’d need to take to parallel one of the painkillers would be staggering, and you’d probably damage your liver for good.  You have to do this”, which was his polite way of telling me to shut the fuck up and deal with it, so up I shut.  In general I have an abnormally high threshold for pain, and I have a man with a medical degree telling me that I’m out of my depth.  Time to remember I’m not the most informed person in the room on this subject.

I limped out of the emergency room, got my prescriptions and began to set up my safety net of support.  I told my AA sponsor, partner, friends in person (and on Twitter) what I was facing and the though of it all genuinely scared me.  My sponsor was my source of amazing support at the start of all of this.

“I know you’re not happy with this baby, and I get it.  Now shut up and take the goddamn pills”  Simple and straight forward; just what I needed.

NewImageOver the course of the next two weeks I unfortunately did not give birth to the mother of all kidney stones, so now it’s time for surgery where they’ll go in, blast the stone with a laser an insert a stent. For the uninitiated, a stent is a tube that’ll connect from my bladder to kidney, keep that natural tube in my body from collapsing and give me better chances of passing the bits of gravel and getting this over and done with.  Think of it as putting asphalt on the street: it’s gonna make the ride smoother.  And how do they get it in you ask?

Think about it.  Yep, that’s how, and if you cringed that’s entirely OK because I did too.

A stent is a very long tube that’s incredibly uncomfortable, but a necessary part of this process along with the prescriptions.  Thank the Gods I was out cold when that bad boy went in me.

Surgery was without incident, and I came out of my Fentinol-induced stupor in a truckload of pain, pissing blood, and with a fistful of other prescriptions as well as instructions that the doctor preferred to leave this in me for at least a month.  The stone I had in me was so wedged in place and they had to do so much work that if they removed the stent too early I’d run the risk of infection which would lay me out for a month. His advice was to grit my teeth and bear it, take the narcotics as prescribed and see you in a week for a follow up.

And now, in addition to the pain and discomfort, narcotics are part of my life for the first time in 25 years.  The thought of that scared the shit out of me.  There’s such a potential for abuse it’s not funny, and I have to figure out the way to balance what the doctor tells me to do and not jeopardize a quarter century of sobriety in the process.   Think I’m kidding? Here’s the list of what I’m on.

1. Oxycodone

2. Ketoralac

3. Tramadol

4. Flomax

5. Vesicare

6. Pyridium

7. Cipro (I’m allergic to penicillin)

The first three meds are painkillers, and the top two are narcotic. The tramadol was at my request as it’s an effective non-narcotic and my instructions are to take them as needed.  The bottom four drugs are all for various stages of maintenance until I’m done with all of this.

Some people in my life have shared with me their two cents on the subject.  Prayer will fix the pain don’t you know? Meditation too.  Just ask your Higher Power to remove this burden from you and he will!.  Uh, yeah, ok.  I have a trained medical professional telling me this pain will make me wish I were dead, I’m pissing blood, and my junk feels like it’s got a urinary tract infection delivered by Satan himself and I’m supposed to pray that away?  I call bullshit.

How will I maintain my sobriety and not go crazy in the process? Communication and honesty is the key.  If I’m taking the meds as prescribed, then I’m not endangering my sobriety.  If I start getting into the “Well, one pill isn’t cutting through the pain, it’s time for another” then I’m in trouble if I’m not sharing that thought with the legion of people who are watching out for me.  I keep all the pills on me when I leave the house, and have reminders set up on my phone when it’s time to examine my level of pain and respond appropriately.  Sometimes, it’s a oxy moment, sometimes it’s Tramadol, and sometimes it’s completely manageable with just aspirin.  It’s up to me to be honest when I’m measuring the pain, and if I can’t figure out the answer then I’d damn well better be practicing what I’ve preached for the last 25 years and start asking for help.

If it were up to me, I sure as hell wouldn’t be on any of these meds, but sadly, as of today I’m not in charge of the universe or what life throws at me.  Without my sobriety I’d be dead meat, and a thing that I have to keep reminding myself is that just because I’m sober doesn’t mean that I have to be a martyr or a hero when I’m in pain.  Sometimes they’re necessary, and it’s up to me to reach for help when I need it, even at this length of sobriety time.  Take them when I need them, as I am told to take them, and walk away from them when it’s time and they’re no longer necessary.


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