The Dark Side of Surgery

I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer… while I generally try to be light and happy about life, I also want to use this blog to be real. This is definitely not one of those bright and shiny posts… if you’re looking for cute horse pictures or funny jokes, go ahead and skip this one.

I did a lot of research before I had my ACL reconstruction surgery. I mean A LOT. I learned all about allograft vs. autograft (cadaver vs. my own), the different types of autograft (hamstring, Achilles, or patellar tendon), and recovery times (8 months to a year).

It never even crossed my mind to research post-operative pain management. I hobbled out of the surgery center with 100 Norcos in my pocket and a numb leg. Fast forward three weeks. My knee was feeling pretty good and the broken toe was tolerable. I was finally to the point that Advil just about took care of any residual pain, so I tapered off the Norco with 12 pills left, feeling pretty strong and proud of myself.

Then came the unexpected. I went to bed Tuesday night and couldn’t sleep. Not even a little bit. I didn’t just have restless leg syndrome, I had restless everything. My stomach was upset, I was clammy, hot, and I was starting to get a headache. It was terrible. I finally fell asleep just after midnight, thinking I was coming down with some sort of flu.

Wednesday, the symptoms all continued and intensified. Thursday was even worse. I felt super emotional and anxious. I emailed my doctor who confirmed what my husband and I had begun to suspect – somehow, while I was busy healing, my body had become addicted and I was having withdrawals. Now, I’m sure on the scale of withdrawals it was minor, but I honestly felt terrible until about Sunday morning. I was blown away that in just under three weeks my body had developed such a strong dependence on something that would make me feel so terrible.

I am so, so, so lucky in that several people close to me have experience with addiction and were able to help talk me through what I was feeling (you know who you are and you know how much I love you!). Sometimes it helps infinitely to have someone tell you that you’re not crazy and you’re not going to die.

Let me be clear. At no point did I abuse the medication I was given and at no point did I “crave” more (thank goodness!). I simply stopped taking the pills once my pain was manageable. And became acutely aware of how so many people each day can very easily get hooked on opiates… because just one more pill would make the yucky symptoms go away. It was completely eye opening and terrifying.

The question at the end of the day: knowing what I know now, would I do it the same way? I honestly don’t know. I’m a firm believer that we can and are doing wonderful things with modern medicine and that no one should have to deal with major or chronic pain. I do wonder if there was something less strong, something less major that could have helped me without the terrible withdrawal symptoms.

So there you have it. My candid, not so pretty story of withdrawal. It’s not meant to scare you, but to just let you know if you’re facing surgery that it’s a very real consequence of taking pain medication, even prescribed, and to help you be prepared.

If you or someone you know need help with prescription or other drugs, please visit http://www.na.org. Talk to your doctor, find a meeting, take action.

 

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