Why Things Look Bleak
As with anyone, whether in physical/mental pain or feeling great, we all have our bad days and we have our good days. For those of us that have to live with chronic pain, we tend to try and find anything possible to cut the pain, even if just partially, to live with reduced pain…even if just for an hour. Where does it leave us when what works is taken away? Where can we turn when we are proactive about our pain management but actions are taken to disrupt things? What options to we have when, because of others, decisions are made that greatly impact your pain management plan?
It is extremely unlikely that one voice will change things and this is where one group needs to combine to be a voice of one, which is louder and less-likely ignored. Too many veterans have to pay because of the actions of others. Case in point: due to deaths and overdoses of opioid medication, plus the over-prescribing of opioids by a Dr. within the VA, the FDA raised the ‘level’ of Vicodin to make it a 30-day new prescription each time its filled. Since this had occurred, my pain medication was usually delivered late. I don’t blame it wholeheartedly on the FDA, there are personnel involved that dropped the ball when my needed medication was requested (but not my Dr.). So, because of the rampant overuse of opioids those of us that take it daily to cut the edge off of chronic pain are going to have other medications prescribed.
On one hand I could understand a stricter control over opioid medication, but I have to tell you that those that are in pain will usually find another way to reduce said-pain. That could be alcohol, harder drugs, etc. For some, when something that was working is taken away because of actions of others, they cannot deal with the pain that they now have to face every day with very little help in reducing that pain. This is when they may feel that they have nowhere else to turn, no one that will understand what they are going through, and nothing ‘bright’ for their foreseeable future. This is where they ‘disappear’ by choosing their own way out, so they never have to feel that pain, since no one else seems to understand the intensity and impact it has over their happiness.
All of these factors play an important role in the lives of our veterans, as well as anyone else that has to live with chronic pain each day. There is a breaking point. This is where it is important for each person to be proactive about their own therapy options as well as exercise. Nowhere has it ever been stated that exercise (within reason) has been detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing. With that, if you actually pursue other avenues of pain relief, you may find that it helps, but what happens when you exhaust all avenues?
I have done many things to try and find relief from chronic pain, some of the ways I have pursued or still use today are:
-Yoga: despite my limited abilities with flexibility, yoga has helped with stretching my muscles and flexibility. I can only do what I can do.
-Tai Chi: I found this to be good for my mental health. Actions are deliberate and fluid. Once again I could only do what I could do.
-Going to the gym: Low weights to maintain my muscle health, not heavy enough to cause more damage but not too light where I am wasting my time. Cardio has been my main focus to maintain good blood flow as well as maintain a healthy brain.
-Swimming: the gym I belong to has a 25-yard pool so I attempt laps whenever I can.
-Painting: for a while I turned to painting, artistic not professionally, despite my inability to be artistic. My brother received all of that artistic talent where he could draw a horse that looks just like a horse, whereas I draw a horse and there is no telling what it looks like. Painting help me divert concentration to try and find my ‘happy place’ away from pain. The pain was still there but my brain was occupied enough to make it somewhat bearable.
-Writing: I have spent a lot of time writing. I have contributed to articles and much of my writing was kept private, some have been published in numerous locations and I had a very small publication of just my writings in 2005. Writing was another way to occupy my brain in the hopes that I could preoccupy my brain away from physical pain.
-MOOV: MOOV is a wristband/software bracelet that has low-impact exercise programs that is short and increases the heartrate. Some days I was not able to do half of the exercises while other days I could.
-Stretching: Every day, on more than one occasion, I stretch. Upper and lower body. I do numerous stretching exercises hoping to keep my muscles stretched hoping it will reduce the pain in my body.
With all of my attempts of being proactive on my own case, I still have physical pain. I do not want to have surgery because I cannot afford to be out of work for months while going through rehabilitation. As mentioned previously, I do not ask for more pain medications, nor have I asked for higher doses. I go to my appointments, I don’t complain, I wait patiently despite knowing that if my appointment is at 4pm, I won’t see the Dr. until about 6-630pm if I am lucky. I accept that wait because my Dr is one of the best Dr’s I have had at the VA.
So what happens when they eliminate my opioid medication because of all of the other cases of opioid abuse? If I complain about not receiving my opioid medication for pain, then I look like I am addicted to the pain medications. If I don’t say anything about having my pain medications that work reduced or eliminated, then my life will suffer: my marriage, my friendships and my quality of life. Why would this be fair? Am I not open to trying different things to see if there are any other options to reduce my pain? Nope on all counts.
My issue with these things are as follows:
I will be given many appointments to other specialties in the hopes that it will be a feasible option for pain relief. These appointments will be during the day (so I will need to take time away from work).
These appointments will be with departments who may not know my entire physical injury history, which means I will need to relive every-bit of information about my accidents and injuries.
These department personnel will be excited to attempt to get me to fall in love with their procedures and make one feel as though if it does NOT work for me, then it is my fault because they have such positive results with every other veteran. Once again, that would put me into a position of defense or cause me to look for other medical doctors in the civilian world for my medical needs.
If I try to explain that what I am using now is working to reduce the pain, it will look like I am not willing to try anything else. When I explain all of the things that I accomplish daily for my own health, it will once again look as though I am not willing to try anything new.
What is not understood is this: I do not want to be in pain. I accept that I will have to deal with this pain daily, probably for the rest of my life. This is a harsh reality because no one wants to be in pain. I believe that it is just a matter of coming to terms with the pain and the situation that I am in. Only I can do this. I can ask for help and go through their motions but despite my willingness to ask for help and proceed with their tactics and techniques, there is a good chance that my pain will continue. I have to be okay with this fact. I do not have to be happy about this but I do need to face the reality.
Over the years I have asked for help due to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), from politicians. I have had one CongressWoman: Thelma Drake of Virginia Beach, and she was incredible. It was because of her that I was able to have some of the things that the VA was screwing me with reduced or stopped. She was no-nonsense, supported the veterans and was willing to meet me face to face whenever we could. She also had her representative set up a meeting between myself, the liaison and the head Dr. of the East Coast Military Medical Department. Ms. Drake was incredible and I wish that she was still available and in Congress because she was the veteran’s loudest supporter.
I have asked Senators in Virginia for help and one Senator wrote me back and stated I should go through a Veterans Service Organization (VSO’s) instead of helping me out, another Senator told me he could not help me. A Governor told me that I should pursue help somewhere else. Another Senator’s representative called me, angrily, to brow-beat me about my case because I kept asking them for help but they were doing nothing to help, other than sending the VA my letters that I wrote to the Senator (because the VA would NEVER punish a veteran for writing their representative). I consistently sent their office proof that the VA was doing deliberate actions trying to screw with my case, only to have them (the Senators representative) send my letters directly to the VA.
My most recent attempt to ask for help was for my local Congressman in the city I now live. I never spoke to him, just to his representative. Once. I sent them a letter outlining the proof I had and the problems I have been faced with. I also wrote in this letter that ‘if your SOP is to send the veteran’s letter to the VA along with your request for information, then please just shred my letter and let me know that you cannot be of assistance with my case and I will pursue help elsewhere’. I never received a letter (or email) back from the Congressman’s office stating that they shredded my letter, matter of fact I had not heard anything back from his office for quite a long time.
Then, on a Saturday, I received a packet from the office of the Congressman. In this packet contained a packet from the VA. Apparently the Congressman reached out to the VA hospital where I mentioned the problem I was having with my pain medications, as well as the main VA office. Two days after receiving this packet of information, my phone rings and it is my Dr. from the VA hospital. My Dr tells me that my appointment is coming up and he wants to reduce my pain medication. If the Director of the VA or other management officials had nothing to do with my Dr calling me, it was an eerie coincidence.
Where it stands now: I have no political representative in my STATE that has the intestinal fortitude to pursue the truth from the VA and support their constituents as much as humanly possible. I am unsure if I am going to get any prescription filled for pain medications at this point. My case is being picked apart up in Washington DC where they are trying to do whatever they can to not look like they targeted me, all the while trying to reduce my ratings as much as possible. My disability check will still come reduced so that the VA can recoup the money I was given for my 15.5 years of service, and tomorrow…tomorrow I will still know that I will wake up in pain.
This is why things look bleak. Do I give up? Do I freak out? Do I quit?
I do not have anything in me that allows me to quit. I have fought all my life and will continue to fight until the wrongs have been corrected and I will continue to help other veterans with their claims to help them avoid going through what I have gone through over the past decade plus. I will always pursue whatever I can to reduce my physical pain.
Will I have to start drinking?
Will I have to pursue illegal drugs?
Will I have to go to a civilian Dr to try and get pain medications that work?
There are very few things in life we can be sure about. At this point I am unsure of most things. I won’t quit. I will offer my assistance, my shoulder, my ears for any veteran that needs help. I will always fight for my case until I am content with my ratings coverage. I will not lay down and let the VA, or any inept politician, run right over me. I am a fighter. I will continue to fight. I will try to maintain a positive attitude. That is all that I can do at this point, but the next time you see that veterans are committing suicide, understand that everyone has a breaking point and pain can convince most people that the remainder of ones life with a pain that will only get worse, is not something that many will want to live with. I do not want to commit suicide, but I understand why some of those veterans do. Some pain cannot go away and death is the only way for them to escape the hell that they have to live through each and every day.
Instead of donating to charities to make yourself feel better about doing your part for our nation’s veterans, get involved. Give time to a cause that helps veterans. Lend a hand at a veterans organization. If you can only give money to a cause, use Charity Navigator and/or Charity Watch to research the ratings of the charities you desire to give you money to. You will be surprised at how much goes into the organizations pockets instead of helping veterans in need.