If I told you that I had a lot in common with Tom Petty, would you believe me? Okay, besides the obvious that he was one of the best rock ‘n’ rollers in music history. Actually, I have a lot in common with many other musicians as well… Prince… Michael Jackson… Glenn Frey…
Petty, Prince, and Jackson all died as a result of medicinal use of drugs, in the cases of Petty and Prince, opioids. Frey, complications of missed diagnosis because of a complicated health history. The big difference between myself and these late talented musicians (besides the money), I am still alive.
We feel empowered when a celebrity has to deal with something we, as commoners have to face. When something is of a rare instance, we hope that something good can come from the recognition of a celebrity dealing with the same issue, after all, paparazzi and the news, would guarantee the attention we need to get the help we need.
As many of our rock ‘n’ roll idols advance to retirement age, that is difficult enough to deal with. But for many who reach this age, they have put their bodies through so much rigor over the decades, and for some, time catches up with them. Some develop cardiac issues. Some have orthopedic issues. Years ago, Eddie Van Halen got major attention when he needed to have hip replacement surgery because of how much activity he spent performing. And while there was always concern about “addiction” from pain killers, a decades-long concern, the actual term opioid, was not really pointed at.
But this is the reality. Our government has failed to deal with the opioid epidemic. In fact, our government has actually enabled the problem to continue, and to grow. Big Pharmacy is also to blame. Sure we want to feel better. But there was a time, when we dealt with pain, without the increased risk of death. And though there are plenty of options as opposed to Big Pharm profits from opioids, lobbyists convince our government to continue to keep this crisis, just that, a crisis. And while our government and Big Pharm definitely deserve to have the finger pointed at them, there is one more finger to be pointed. And sadly, it is at the patient.
As I say that, I am that patient that I am about to describe. I have many health issues, cardiac, pulmonary, skeletal, muscular, renal, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and so on, more than a dozen diagnosis that I am being treated for. When I met my physician at my long term cancer survivor’s clinic back in 2008, he made this statement to me. “I cannot reverse the things that are developing with your body from your cancer treatments decades ago. I cannot stop them either. But what I can do, is help you to slow them down.” By “slowing down,” he meant medication, physical therapy, and common sense. For me, as Meatloaf sings, “two out three ain’t bad.” To treat my physiological issues, I needed medicines. To treat the pain that increased year after year, I needed medications. But the most difficult thing to treat me for, was common sense.
I had a wife, two daughters, and a home to support. Often times, that meant working 50-60 hour work weeks, then working part time as a disc jockey. Then there were the years that I campaigned for our local school board also. Of course, there were duties around the house that needed to be tended to. And also, taking care of other family members who would fall ill. All the while, I would never miss a beat. I took care of everything that I needed to.
But it came at a price. My stress levels were at an all time high. Pain from the progression of my skeletal and muscular issues became unbearable. I developed insomnia due to the pain and the inability to get my brain to turn off at night from all the stress. My doctors often described me as being too hard on my body. I often thought it just meant emotionally, because admittedly, I refused to let me give myself any break or credit. The doctors actually meant physically.
I began prescriptions for my heart and stress. I was prescribed lower level pain meds, which rapidly progressed to the likes of tramadol, oxycodone, and fentanyl. But as it was difficult to manage my pain, it was even more difficult to sleep. Within 2 years, on top of everything else I was taking, I was taking the maximum dose of the strongest form of Ambien. Those around me would often question how I was even standing, let alone dealing with the fog that was left for my brain to focus through. But I did it. And I did it well.
Tom Petty’s widow describes the unimaginable pain that the singer was enduring, just to keep going. He had a bad hip, but had no time to deal with it. To take time off would risk momentum and income. Instead, he just kept piling on meds to deal with tolerance of drugs no longer working, and probably others to treat newer symptoms. Petty’s situation is no different than my situation, or others that I have witnessed having to deal with.
What many people may not understand about fentanyl, in particular, the medication patch, placement is vital. Too close to the heart can be fatal. I found this out by mistake as the directions specifically state, “do not place in the same spot of application each patch.” But nowhere did it state where not to place the patch. Only by communicating with another survivor who found out the hard way, I learned not to do it again.
Being declared legally disabled due to all of my issues, and my former employer assisting me in this direction, my employer was no longer able to accommodate my restrictions as required by the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2012, I was sent to the emergency room 5 times, twice for cardiac related episodes, two for pulmonary issues, and one undetermined. My body was only getting worse. And no matter how much medications were being thrown at me, there was no end. I was no longer able to do both, live the lifestyle I had and have quality of life.
I imagine that is where Tom Petty was in life. And it has now been confirmed to have cost him his life. Yes, the opioids were the main factor. But it was also his desire to do what he did best, make rock ‘n’ roll. I imagine that is also what Prince and Michael Jackson went through. And now, reports are coming out, just how badly doctors dropped the ball concerning former Eagle Glenn Frey that eventually led to his passing. Again, those of us with these unusual diagnosis to deal with, understand that all too well.
Please do not let Tom Petty be just another casualty of the opioid epidemic. The loss is heartbreaking enough.