Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Addiction, Mistreated, or Misdiagnosed?

We were stunned by the death of music legend Michael Jackson.  And recently shocked again, but the death of another musical icon, Prince.  The common link between their deaths, pointed at the use of prescription drugs.  I will not be one to throw the term “abuse” or “addiction” as many other choose to do.

Michael Prince

Their deaths were much more complicated than just being given sleep medication and pain medication.  I know this personally, not because I knew either artist, but rather because like so many other patients who deal with long term, permanent, or progressive health issues, I have personal knowledge of what it is like to have to live with pain, discomfort, and frustration from either the lack of care, or the inability to get the care necessary to improve the quality of life.

I am not naïve.  As a caregiver, I have witnessed many times, patients simply throwing out symptoms, in order to be able to get prescription drugs in the form of painkillers or sleep aids.  For being one of the most advanced countries in the world however, our medical society does not do enough to confirm or deny when someone else’s issues are real, or manipulative.  It is not necessarily medicine’s fault either.  Some are very good actors and actresses.  Some are just a pain in the ass.  I have watched people go from one end of a spectrum of diagnosis straight through to another, still come up with nothing solid, but have been given more than a dozen prescriptions to try and deal with the increasing list of symptoms.

Then you take someone like a long term cancer survivor subjected to 4 times the lifetime maximum exposure of radiation, or chemotherapy so toxic that in one of its forms, one drug actually used to kill thousands of people in a middle East country by their dictator leader.  There are many people in this situation, including me.  I am not known as a complainer for my body’s ills, so when I actually do voice a discomfort, I get attention.  So, when I was diagnosed with a “widowmaker” blockage with my heart at the age of 42, it was not something that doctors had been looking for or expecting.  And to be honest, if not for the tenacity of my primary care doctor, any other doctor might just have missed this.

Once it was discovered that I was dealing with late effects, then it became much more clearer what I was feeling with my body, and how my body often reacted.  Before then, it made no sense.  But as things were diagnosed, more than a dozen issues, treatment and management could begin.  Of course, that was only going to be as effective as the lifestyle that allowed it to work.

Blue collar my whole life, I would show up at work “on life support” if I could.  Much to my doctor’s chagrin, I was very tough on my body, not in a dietary or exercise sense, but stress, emotional and physical.  I worked very long hours, and carried very heavy loads, even considered too strenuous for someone without my similar issues.  Several of my doctors hinted that perhaps it was time to consider “retirement” just to give my body a break.  In fact, one of my doctors looked like he was going to explode when I made the comment that “I deserved to be in the pain and discomfort because that was my price for having been cured of my cancer.”

This is how it started for me.  It started with moderate pain medicine, which all that did was allow me to not feel as much pain, ignoring my limitations.  This resulted in more pain, which of course resulted in stronger prescriptions, and the cycle just continued.  Then you add in the insomnia from the pain.  Yep, add in sleep aids.  And those needed to be increased because the stress and pain continued to increase.

Just as antibiotics become useless as we build up tolerance, so do pain meds and sleep aids.  Again, without the lifestyle change, this becomes a major issue.  It is not fair to just simply label someone as an addict.

We are a “bust your ass” society when it comes to money and possessions.  We are driven to do whatever we can to get everything we want.  And that comes at a price.

I do not know what caused Michael Jackson to require the amount of sedative he used to sleep.  I am sure it had to be stress and anxiety related.  But again, without any change in lifestyle, those meds were going to be necessary for him, and as they became ineffective, newer and stronger medicines were going to be needed.  Sadly, he lost his life.

And for Prince, if you have ever seen him perform, if he was dealing with pain, which again, seeing him perform, you can see how much his career could easily have taken a toll on him, pain meds can only do so much without changing the lifestyle.  Which means, as your tolerance builds, you need stronger meds.

No, I do not believe that either death was related to addiction.  Yes, the meds have their addictive qualities, but if you do not change the lifestyle that causes these types of issues, they will only continue to exist and need to be dealt with.

My health issues will never go away.  They are progressive.  But as my doctors have acknowledged, we can at least slow the process down, and improve quality of life.  The rest is up to me.

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