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October 11, 2003

In 1973, when I was 11 years old, my father (aged 37 - four years younger than I am at this writing) had surgery on his lower back for a disc problem. He was better, but back problems tend to never go away. A number of years later, I had injured a knee and was having surgery of my own, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and Dad told me a story about his own stay in the hospital.

A week or so after his surgery, he became suspicious of his pain medication. He realized that he was looking forward to it a bit too much.

They had been giving him morphine.

He told his doctor, who did the right thing and took him off the morphine. For the next week, my Dad told me, he felt as if he "had been run over by a steamroller" - his exact words. I'll never forget them. He was ever after wary of pain medication.

[His wariness, I believe, may have contributed to his death in 1997 at age 61, but that's a different story, for a different post.]

In 1991, during an Army sports day, I sustained a pretty serious injury. I tore numerous ligaments in my lower back and, worse, herniated a disc. A herniated disc puts pressure on the major nerves, and causes serious pain - in my case, in the lower back and down the legs.

I could no longer do push-ups, sit-ups, or run - three of the many things the Army insists on soldiers being capable of. Had I not been injured, there is a good chance I'd still be in, probably a Sergeant First Class, possibly a Warrant Officer. 20-year retirement would be only three years away.

But the back injury did me in, and forced me out. Even now, 11 years after the original injury, that disc in my spine - such a small thing, really - will periodically and without warning herniate again. When it does, I usually go through four phases of pain and recovery:

  • an hour or so face-down on the floor, unable to move, then
  • bed-ridden for a day or two,
  • walking with pain for a week, and
  • diminishing pain for a month or more.
Since I am extremely reluctant to let anyone near my spine with a knife, the only thing for it is medication. These days, in my case at least, the prescription I usually receive is hydrocodone, often known by the brand-name "Vicodin."

It's an opiate. You know - like morphine. Like heroin. Highly addictive.

I've been lucky - I learned the lesson of my Dad's cautionary tale, and am habitually reluctant to use anything stronger than aspirin. Even when that isn't enough, my injury has never kept me on the hardcore painkillers for more than a week or so. I have the remains of my last prescription in a bottle in front of me. I used it for two days when I rather severely tore some muscles in September. The first day I took it, it made me sick. I have no inclination or desire to use it, even though my back has been a bit sore today. Aspirin will suffice.

By now, of course, you no doubt have figured out that I write this all with regard for the situation Rush Limbaugh has gotten himself into.

I know pain. I know the "bad enough to make a grown man cry" kind of pain. I know the kind of pain Limbaugh has said he experiences.

But I'm lucky: my pain goes away. Rush's apparently does not.

I know other folks (here's one) who can tell their own stories.

Did Rush do wrong by using painkillers without a prescription? Yes, so it would seem. To his credit, he's admitted his error and is taking steps to fix the problem.

Is it understandable? Absolutely. If you've never been there, you'll never know how much a person would do to make the pain go away.

I do know. I'm going to cut the man some slack. I recommend that you do, too.

Posted by Russ at 04:34 PM, October 11, 2003 in Miscellany

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Russ - I have recently been prescribed a new Rx, non-narcotic Bextra. It has helped my back pain decrease from a daily score of 6 to 8, to a manageable 3 or 4. Some days, it's the difference in survival, it seems. Ask your Dr. Mine gave me a 9 day supply (on cards) to try it. I felt the difference the very next day.

Posted by: Indigo at October 12, 2003 09:19 PM

I think Rush has been put under the corollary of the Golden Rule: leaders should behave like we think they should behave (perfectly!). Many of us have been spared facing a very difficult situation and how we would react to it. Rush is trying to get a second chance, but I wonder how many people won't give it to him.

Pain is a terrible thing to mind.

Posted by: MarcV at October 13, 2003 01:02 PM