I think my impression of people being on morphine was always one of them being slightly floaty and dreamy, maybe perpetually happy and/or chilled out. I thought that maybe that was why people said that it was an addictive drug, because it made you feel good. I have been on morphine for 2 years for chronic pain. I have patches, which I change weekly and have liquid morphine to take at night when things are so bad I that cannot sleep but if you met me, unless I told you; you would have no idea. More than that, I don’t feel anything for being ‘on it’ but I absolutely know about it, when I come off/take less.
I suffer from chronic pain in my left sacroiliac joint as the result of an accident that was not my fault. I slipped in a patch of water in a leisure centre and landed on my left hip (the fracture in my spine has always been ‘incidental’ compared to the pain in my pelvis). I have had to battle though various drug interventions, injections, pain clinics, counselling and the profound judgement of others to get to February 2017, when a CT scan finally showed the extensive inflammation and excessive movement in the joint synonymous with blunt force trauma i.e. hitting the side of the pelvis really hard on a tiled floor. I am currently waiting for surgery to stabilise the damaged joint and reduce the inflammation, in turn hopefully; reducing if not completely eliminating the need for such powerful pain medication.
Yet still, despite all the evidence; I am still battling to be understood with respect to the kind of pain that I am still suffering despite the medication. The drugs do not eliminate the pain, it is just ‘dulled’ to a level at which I can vaguely function, but I still can’t function because of the drug side-effects. Trust me, you would not take this stuff unless you really needed it but in the last few weeks a number of times, ‘others’ have made me feel like some kind of fraud or junkie rather than simply accepting that I am in the unfortunate position of really needing pain relief.
The first instance came from the company against whom I brought a personal injury claim (obviously), who have refused to offer me any financial help with regards to my surgery, neither paying for it nor offering to help me support myself whilst I’m off work recovering, as they have refused to accept that the problems I have now are the result of the accident I had 3 years ago. You may wonder how that links to morphine, well; I only work 2 or 3 hours a day. I tried working more and changing my job, but I’m either suffering from debilitating pain or I’m suffering from side-effects which also make it impossible to work efficiently. So I’m not exactly in a position to accrue savings to help fund me while I’m recuperating, I have a mortgage, bills to pay and a child to look after, which I am barely able to manage even now.
Also, morphine prevents patients from being able to access the deeper more restorative phases of sleep meaning that the sleepiness caused by the opiates are never ‘dealt with’ at night or even during naps, you just stagger from one unsatisfying rest attempt to another without ever really recuperating. Morphine also causes intense stomach cramps and nausea, dry mouth and gastric ‘problems’. Each of these side effects requires their own medicinal treatment and yes, I have tried more natural methods but peppermint tea etc. (in this case) is like bringing a flamenco fan to put out a bonfire. It just won’t cut it.
The second incident was actually at my GP’s surgery. For the last year and a half the dose that works for me (right now) has been out of manufacture so I have had to make it up using 2 different strength patches. I have told the surgery this over and over again but each month I have to argue to get the prescription changed from the single patch of the required dose, to 2 prescriptions for 2 different patches to make the right dosage. A few days ago the GP refused to change the prescription and instead said I should just ‘reduce the dosage’ instead. Now, about those side effects; I do not want to be on this drug at all but I am just about coping with life on the prescribed dosage. Even a slight reduction in dose will a) increase pain levels once again and b) force me into withdrawal, which I have experienced before and am not ready to go through again just yet. To come off a drug like morphine you need at least 2 weeks to deal with even the smallest amount.
At the same time as the CT scan in February I was given an extremely effective injection into the joint which offered me total pain relief (amazing) for several weeks. Of course, I was excited to reduce the patches and clear my body of the drug. However, the first few nights following the initial reduction, I did not sleep AT ALL. I was pacing the floor, sweating then freezing; feeling sick with diahorrea and just a complete inability to sleep. It was awful. I knew that if I had to go through that with every minor reduction it would be weeks before I’d be able to work again, so I decided to rip it off quickly like a plaster. I reduced the dose to a quarter of what I had been on straight away and suffered the consequences.
There are side effects of morphine withdrawal that I cannot bring myself to share here, but let’s just say; I couldn’t leave the house for days. I have never in my whole life been so ill. When the world righted itself and I was on the lesser dose I felt fantastic. I had energy, I felt powerful for having done it and I felt positive about the next steps. Unfortunately, following that; the pain increased incrementally and having to increase the dosage again to help combat it enough to do ‘some’ work was profoundly upsetting. It felt like a failure.
So the GP’s flippant suggestion that I just reduce the dose was not met with any favourable reaction, except fury. I do not take this drug because I want to. I do not want to. But, it is helping me at the moment live a shadow of a life that I once had and I deeply resent any implication that it is for any other reason.
I have had people suggest that my pain is to do with stress, that maybe it’s hormonal, possibly the drugs themselves are making me feel like I’m in pain, so I take more? No. Thankfully that scan vindicated me from any suggested that my suffering is of my own making. I was once told by someone to ‘get clean’ like some heroin user from the local car park (that comment really felt like a massive slap round the face, I can tell you).
Morphine is misunderstood amongst those who are not suffering, so they do not need that kind of intervention. I had one lady tell me that she didn’t believe in taking pain medication because she was just the kind of person who just ‘got on with it’. What do you say to that? I can only assume she hasn’t ever really experienced debilitating, life-altering, physically limiting pain, because this IS me, ‘getting on with it’.
My perception of people on morphine was horribly flawed. Yes, there are people who seek a medicinal ‘high’ using the drugs but most of us are genuine pain sufferers and our entire lives are affected as a result. The incidents I commented on might seem like nothing to everyone else but they are an example of repetition and it’s just something else to battle along with the pain of injury.
So, to my GP who apparently thought I was going to sell or overuse the extra patches to my own advantage (as was told to me by the receptionist), the insurance company who refuse to acknowledge my suffering or their responsibility, and to the more than 1 person who has accused me of not being strong enough, relying too much on medication and being an addict; I share all this with you and hope it gives you a moment to consider your perception of those who live life on necessary opiates.