Of all the things I’ve gone through this year, the one thing that always freaked me out most was medicine.
I went through a bilateral carpal tunnel surgery in October, leaving me with limited mobility and a great deal of pain. The surgeon prescribed me these pain pills that were enough to turn me into a drooling idiot. Regardless of how much pain I was in, I really tried my best to just gut it out and not take the pills.
“The doctor gave them to you for a reason,” my lovely wife would say in her best exasperated nurse voice. “Take the damned pills.”
I did when I felt I had no other choice, but for the most part, I tried like hell to avoid them.
Near Christmas, the overwhelming pressure of the life chaos I described in “Heroes Often Fail” was persisting to the point of physical and mental maladies. I waited as long as I could before I went to see the doc. She asked a bunch of questions about my mental state, pretty much coming to the conclusion I needed some level of sedation.
I protested vehemently. “I don’t want to be a zombie,” I pleaded.
She assured me that despite what I had heard about these kinds of pills, I’d be OK and I could take them whenever I felt I wanted them to smooth out the stress.
That was my problem. I was worried that I would want to and that I couldn’t stop.
Addiction is a fear of mine for reasons both simple and complex. When you grow up Catholic, the nuns basically train you that everything is a slippery slope that leads directly to hell.
That time you shook your dick twice after peeing? It’s leading to masturbation, illicit sex, prostitution, AIDS and death, in case you were wondering… That time you lied? It’s leading to you violating family trust, hocking the family silver and having to scar your fingerprints with battery acid before you go on the lam, just so’s you know…
The other reason was that addition runs in my family. My great uncle was a pharmacist, on a path to a great life, only to find out he liked prescribing himself stuff more than selling it to other people. He died basically broke and alone. My grandmother fought alcoholism her whole life, holding off the beast at the bridge for her final 25 years, even as she battled cancer to the end. Still, her life was rough until she finally became a friend of Bill W. Others in my family also have similar issues. It’s not an unreasonable thought that something might get a grip on me when I’m not paying attention.
And then there was Saturday…
I’m heading to the store to pick up a prescription for my mother-in-law when I get a text from a former student. The kid is going on 30 now and it’s been years since I had him in a classroom. He dropped out to run a bar, a nice joint I stop in at from time to time, only to leave him hints and tips that, hey, you can always come back and I’ll help you. He worked at the student paper when I was there as well, making him a great colleague as well as a nice kid.
He tells me he’s sorry he’s been out of touch and that he didn’t respond to some help I asked for and that he’s sorry if it’s shitty that he asks for a favor after that, but he’s going to ask anyway… See, his brother just died of a heroin overdose and this kid wants to know how to write an obituary for him because he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it and he is afraid he’s going to screw it up…
I felt like I got throat punched. All I could do was text back stuff like “Are you OK?” and “I’ll send you my notes when I get home.” My mind is reeling about how this guy is dealing with his sibling just dropping dead. The guy apparently was clean for three years, got mixed up in the wrong situation and took a hit.
He died. Game over. That fast.
What messed me up more was that this is the second one of my former students to lose a family member to heroin in the past year or so. A kid I absolutely adored from Mizzou had her brother die after battling the beast for a few years. It was another situation of something getting its hooks into a kid and never really letting go.
Grandma used to tell me that she never could look more than one day ahead when it came to addiction. It wasn’t something you ever “cured” or “reformed” yourself from, to use the parlance of a long-ago, ill-conceived term for addicts on the comeback. As a “make a list, cross shit off” kind of guy, that’s scary as hell. As a control freak, it’s paralyzing.
There is such a pull and tug between how we see medical issues and how we are supposedly supposed to see them. For the longest time, addiction and mental illness were viewed as simply being weak. The reason you couldn’t get off the bottle? You were a pussy who needed man up and dry out and learn how to hold your liquor. The reason you were depressed? You just needed to snap out of it and get your shit together. Look for the positives, man!
These answers are wrong and will always be wrong, as both are linked to actual scientific, chemical concerns. To help the illness, we need to use medicine.
However, it also seems like EVERYTHING has a pill for it. Watching the Super Bowl, we found out that there’s apparently a pill for people who can’t shit because they are on opioids and there’s also a pill for people who shit too much. Apparently, the market for people who can’t form proper turds is blossoming.
Low T, restless leg, toenail fungus, limp dicks, lack of female desire… You got something or don’t got something? We got a pill for that.
And that’s where they tell us that some of these addictions to shit like heroin start. Watch the Real Sports piece on heroin use among athletes and it all comes back to painkillers. It hurt, so we gave them a pill to fix it. Then, the pills didn’t work well enough or were too expensive or ran out so they needed something and then, bam, heroin.
And then they die and we wonder why.
The hard part here is trying to figure out where that normal resting pulse actually sits for me. Is it normal to be depressed? Sometimes, maybe, but if it gets too bad, and I’m creating a problem for other people and can’t snap out of it, shouldn’t I try to get that fixed? OK, so what happens when I can’t function without that pill? Or it stops working and I need more of it? How much is too much? How will I know? At least with booze, the vomiting for me is a pretty good red flag that shit went wrong. Same thing with pain. How much is acceptable and how much can I take of whatever it is until I’m actually doing more harm than good?
The state of Wisconsin started an anti-heroin campaign called “The Fly Effect” that talked about how you take the one shot and you’re pretty much screwed. (I’d link to the site, but for reasons past my understanding, it doesn’t exist anymore as it once did. Maybe another budget cut…) So, understanding that a) taking something might be a one-way ticket to addiction, b) things that doctors gave us we once thought were safe can lead you on the nature trail to hell and c) I generally have constant anxiety about losing everything, it’s a pretty bad idea for me to trust that a chemical can solve a problem for me without creating another problem.
How the hell do you deal with the anxiety you’re facing over your anti-anxiety medication?
Maybe there’s a pill for that. Hopefully, it’s non-habit-forming.