Another Statistic

A few days ago, a friend of mine, who was also the husband of a colleague of my wife the professor, became a statistic. He shot himself fatally while his wife, also a professor of music, was at work. We’ve been friends, if not the closest of friends, for a number of years, and we even had them over for Thanksgiving dinner, as we have had for the past several years.

He had been an on-site construction manager for industrial projects, and some thirty years ago was badly injured in a construction accident. He was almost completely paralyzed for some time, but managed to regain enough muscular control that he could walk, talk, and handle most everyday tasks, although he did lose what I’d estimate as probably 60-70% of his former muscular strength, especially in his upper body. He lived most of his life since the accident in some degree of pain. With the help of opioids, he’d managed a normal life as essentially a house-husband – he did the cooking and light cleaning. And this worked for more than 25 years. But several years ago, even though he’d never abused opioids, with all the furor over them, he was essentially denied their use. Then he fell getting out of bed and shattered his leg, and had to go into total rehabilitative care because he didn’t have the upper body strength or coordination to use either crutches or a walker. Even after the leg healed, the pain got worse, and he lost 60 pounds in a year, and the doctors kept insisting the pain was all in his head.

He tried more physical therapy, to the degree that it was physically possible, and forced himself to take walks three to four times a day. Nothing that the medical profession suggested worked, and to top it all off, at one point, doctors even implied that both my friend and his wife were opioid users, which was totally ludicrous, given that she abstained from any kind of stimulants or drugs, except coffee, tea, and diet cokes… and that he had never turned to illegal drugs or to illegal means of acquiring prescription painkillers.

In the end, when he finally took his own life because the pain overwhelmed him, he became, not a victim of opioids, but of the war on opioids. He was an intelligent and highly disciplined man, a devoted vegetarian, who’d never used any drugs, except the opioid painkillers, and those never to excess, and who might have two glasses of wine with dinner, very occasionally. He was gently and kindly witty and very good company. He’d managed very well for 25 years on a moderate opioid regime, but with all the furor about opioids, this relief was denied to him.

This is not the only story I’ve heard along these lines, but it’s the closest one that I’ve witnessed personally.

As I’ve noted before, it seems as though the policymakers in this country, and possibly elsewhere, are ignoring the problem of pain and are essentially treating everyone who seeks relief of that pain as a potential criminal statistic. If this continues, and I see no sign of it changing, there will be a significant increase in both suicides and/or the use of illegal drugs or “illegal” possession of legal opioid painkillers, if not all three. And that’s assuming that these increases haven’t already begun.

3 thoughts on “Another Statistic”

  1. I am so very sorry to hear of your friend’s death.

    Chronic pain feels like something that we should have managed to find a solution for in the 21st century, but, alas, that appears not to be the case, and millions of people continue to suffer.

  2. Tom says:

    My condolences on your loss of a friend.

    “Then he fell getting out of bed and shattered his leg, and had to go into total rehabilitative care because he didn’t have the upper body strength or coordination to use either crutches or a walker. Even after the leg healed, the pain got worse, and he lost 60 pounds in a year, and the doctors kept insisting the pain was all in his head.”

    Pain like all sensations is in part in our head: we are human and, for better or worse, have a mind. Unfortunately the doctor forgot about the re-enforcement resulting from added injury, which does frequently result in neuropathic pain; similar to pain that starts with associated shock. This type of sensation often results in some form of suicide.

    Not all human advancement is describable as a power curve. We know little about what constitutes homo sapiens. When we do eventually become gods then we will be able to treat every condition completely; as in “cure”.

  3. Jim S says:

    Just read this; very sorry for your loss.

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