There Are Two Kinds of Debilitating Pain - Physical Pain and Emotional Pain.

Both can kill you and unfortunately for many years, I have had huge doses of both in my life experiences.  In this blog, I will share my story about physical pain.  Next week, I will share my story on emotional pain and finally in the proceeding blogs I will share the many alternative treatments available to address physical and emotional debilitating pain in healthy ways. 

Modern Medicine without Reservation

I am compelled to tell my story about physical pain because I lost my husband, my soul mate, my everything, February 24, 2013.  He was only 56 years old. This was after he suffered from severe back pain for over 13 years.  Together we went the medical doctor/specialist route and I personally feel that by doing so they killed my beloved husband.  I believe the Western World has instilled in each of us a belief to take the so called “modern medicine” path without reservation.  If this shared story can help one person consider the pursuit of alternative methodologies, or a combination of Western and Eastern medicine then I will feel that I have honored my beautiful loving husband.     

Chronic Pain, Wear, Tear & Genetic Tendencies

My sweetie had back pain and severe resulting health issues for as long as I remember.  He had been a wild man downhill skier/jumper in his younger life and then in his early years he operated a fish hatchery which added to the toll on his back.  Later in life, he created sustainable cold water fisheries habitats through the development and/or improvement of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams throughout the Western United States.  This meant long hours in an excavator, which also took their toll on his damaged back.  Finally, genetically he had a family history of bad backs and necks. 

Western Medicine Disaster

Early on, when we were just dating, I can remember driving from Buena Vista, to Kremmling, Colorado (about 3 hours away) for a back specialist appointment.  On a side note this was the only specialist he was allowed to see because of his health insurance . . . whom I can also blame for this Western medicine complete disaster. 

The doctor there took only “the allowed” x-rays and told Hal (my love) that it would be best just to endure the pain rather than to have back surgery.  Hal and I agreed with this recommendation because of the horror stories that we had heard about back surgery.  In addition, my husband was a true mountain man and he “manned up” to the pain and did not consider doing anything more than that.  In his mind, he saw a specialist and if the solution was just to embrace “true grit” he could do that. 

Eight years later he could no longer walk without his legs going completely numb.  We headed back to the doctors/specialists.  This time in Fort Collins because his father had also seen this specialist and had surgeries.  After MRI’s and CAT scans it was determined that if he did not have back surgery he would be paralyzed.  He had a degenerative disc disease, lumbar stenosis, bone spurs and bulging discs.  In his scans, there was bone on bone; also up and down his back between his vertebrae’s they were completely black rather than the healthy white. I believe that had we gone sooner to this second specialist Hal’s chances would have been a complete healing and survival.  Yet, in our defense we did what the first specialist said to do.  In hindsight, I also believe if we had, eight years sooner, started acupuncture, massage therapy, other therapies and food related whole health approaches he also would not have ended up in this chronic situation. 

USA Health Insurance an Oxymoron

So we agreed to have a single fusion in his lower back, the worst area and were told this would stop the paralysis.  Then came in Hal’s health insurance (I think this title is an oxymoron) who would not agree to this fusion procedure.  Our specialist arranged to do the fusion as an “out-patient” procedure yet with us staying in his clinic overnight.  We were actually grateful for the surgeon doing this for us.  The surgery went well. 

Then all things bad happened.  First, my love got an ileus which got bad enough to do an ambulance transfer to the local hospital.  Then at the hospital he got pneumonia so we stayed longer.  As soon as we got home he got blood clots which were severe and had to be treated with shots to his stomach for several weeks.  Then five months later he had a heart attack due to a complete blockage to his heart.  This resulted in his heart only functioning at 26% later it got up to 29%. 

Western Medicine New Innovations?

Six months after his back surgery his pain was unbearable and he began taking an increased dosage of pain medications.  We went back to find out the back surgery failed and the plastic type of pins (a new innovation) had snapped in places.  It took about three additional months to determine this fact due to scheduling tests, the health insurance requirements, and Hal’s heart condition (treated by a separate specialist).  I admit Hal had over done it, being the bread winner, and worked harder than he should have after the first surgery.  Yet, I also believe the degenerative disc disease did not allow for a Western medicine healing, particularly when combined with the out-patient surgery and the “innovative” new pins used for the surgery.

If First You Do Not Succeed – Try Again?

It was agreed that a second surgery needed to be scheduled.  This time a double fusion would be implemented and first the scar tissue from the original surgery would need to be removed.  They scheduled a four hour surgery with the intention to first operate through Hal’s stomach (a different specialist) to remove the scar tissue then flip him over on the back for the actual fusion (with our surgeon).  All this time Hal and I felt like we were doing the right medical procedures, we also had very positive thoughts/beliefs/spirituality about the outcome.  We never considered it would “not be ok.” 

The surgery started early in the morning, four hours past and we had heard nothing.  Then out came the surgeon, I thought, “thank goodness.”  Yet, his report was that the scar tissue was much worse than originally thought.  They had not even gotten to the actual back surgery.  They were going to forge ahead.  Eight hours later the surgeon came out again to say they finally got through the scar tissue, but Hal had been in too many hours of surgery.  They intubated him over night and scheduled the actual fusion for the next morning. 

Four additional hours later his double fusion was complete.  Hal and I always stayed together through everything – even hospital stays.  So we stayed in the hospital for a week and he was on intervenes Dilaudid at serious dosages. 

Masking Medications – Side Affects – Pain Medicine Addiction

Afterwards he continued on Dilaudid pills for several months.  Then we were off to pain clinics since now his pain needed to be managed as he had developed an addiction to the pain meds.  Please note, this addiction was inevitable and contributes to the original horror stories we had heard about back surgery years prior. Pain clinics were created because the medical industry knows if one is put on pain medicine for extended periods or high dosages the patient will become addicted

Yet he and I went to the specialists and pain clinics weekly and we usually thought everything would be ok.  When I did not think it was “Ok” and had conflicts with Hal on the medications both for his heart and back pain he would say, “I am not going anywhere, we will grow old together.”  He was very convincing and also strong willed so he typically handled the pain meds very well. Plus, he was extremely intelligent about almost everything, much smarter than me, so I felt he was the wiser one.     

The Aftermath

But the surgeries, time and medications did not heal his symptoms.  The pain got worse.  He began to no longer be able to lay down in bed and sleep.  We bought a massage chair/recliner and he usually would sleep in it.  We went back to the specialist to find out the degenerative disease had spread to cervical spinal stenosis and above his lower back double fusion his back was failing badly.  It was a vicious circle.  Again, the medical industry knows if one has a fusion(s) then the likelihood of the spine failing above or below the fusion is high. We started a new therapy, we went to a new pain clinic, we adjusted our life to endless trips to the doctors, we continued to research what other options there were – but there were few.  We were getting pretty deep into debt from all of the medical expenses ironically, 1 ½ years after my beloved passing I am still paying medical bills.  His mom and I pleaded with Hal to have laser spine surgery but the health insurance would not cover that procedure and he was adamant that we could not afford it. 

Four years after his second back surgery he had a terrible addiction to pain medications and higher and higher dosages simply did not work.  So . . . we went through a horrific two week detox and started again at a new pain clinic in Denver.  Hal really liked the physician at the pain clinic and it seemed like things were going to get better. They started doing shots in his back to temporarily relieve the pain but again because of his heart condition and the Coumadin that he was on it became quite the medical accomplishment to get him off the Coumadin, shots in his stomach to replace the Coumadin, the shot procedure in his back and then back on the Coumadin in the right dosage.  Hal hated this process particularly because the shots in his back only lasted a few months and then we had to do all over again.

In January 2013, Hal had Kidney failure and we were back in the hospital. It was from too many medications.  He and I had serious talks about all of this but he was so good at being calm, logical and positive about everything.  For a man with an addiction he was very good at handling it and his spirit was so loving, kind and encouraging he could always convince me that it would be “ok.” 

New Physicians - Do They Look at Your Records?

The Monday before my beloved passed away we were back at the Denver pain clinic for a shot in his back.  I always went in with him to the doctors but we were having car trouble so it was decided that I would stay outside with the car running.  He came out and said it was a new doctor.  Rather than the one shot in his back they gave him three and he had a new pain medicine to try.  He was happy and seemingly relieved.        

I was concerned; I said “aren’t those shots hard on your heart.”  I always worried about his heart.  He said, they would not have done the procedure if it was unsafe.  I wonder if the new doctor even knew he had a heart condition.  I was always the one who told all of the doctors this fact and shared my concerns of the pain and multitudes of other medications that he was on.

Why Prescribe Deadly Prescriptions?

When we got home I went to pick up his new prescription but they only had a few days’ supply.  The pharmacist told me, “this medicine is dangerous.”  I went back home and told Hal what the pharmacist told me – I also insisted on divvying out to him the meds (he hated when I did that) since they were now 12 hour time release (he never had time release before).  All seemed ok; he even seemed to be happier with the pain.  I had a business meeting on Thursday, so Hal picked up his 30 day supply of this new medication without telling me until afterwards.  He was doing well, so I did not think anything would go wrong.  Remember, for both of us, we had been used to Hal taking pain meds now for five years.

Saturday night, Hal had dinner and then we agreed to watch a movie together.  He fell asleep in his recliner so I covered him up before heading off to bed with the grandkids.  He passed away that early morning.  The coroner told me it was most likely a heart attack.  Yet, after the six week autopsy they determined that he had taken too many time release pills (I think he did not realize because he was used to taking so many more pills) and his heart could not handle the increased dosage.  After Hal passed away, I found out the new medication was time release morphine. 

Emotional Pain Unbearable Loss and Grief

This takes me to the second debilitating pain “emotional pain.” I wonder if I will ever get over the emotional pain of the “what ifs” and the “why did I not find out it was morphine, and how could I have been so stupid?” Death of a loved one is something you cannot fix and you have to learn to live without them - even when you do not want to. 

I have learned physical and emotional pain (more to follow) can easily kill you.  Furthermore, living with them is so darn debilitating.  My life’s lesson and new drive is to find and share alternative methodologies to address both areas of pain.  In future blogs, I will share Eastern alternative medicine solutions to the Western medicine path that Hal and I took, as well as, alternative Western medicine solutions that I so very much wish I could go back in time and have used.  For me, our Alpenl Feel the Relief is a pathway to share Pain Relief tactics, particularly with whole health approaches, with each of you so that you can consider the pursuit of alternative methodologies and avoid some pain. 

Wholeheartedly, Jamie Hagen, Partner, Alpenl Feel the Relief