I worked as a paramedic. We were in the ER unloading a patient who had fallen off a roof from a car. He was immobilized on a board and we were sliding him out of the vehicle when he suddenly became uncooperative. In the effort to keep him on the board, I hurt myself. I was able to gather myself and get him inside. But that’s when the injury hit me; I was on the verge of collapse. Over the course of my career I have injured my back four times, but this time, instead of slowly getting better, it just kept getting worse.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board was pushing me to go back to work but I couldn’t. I felt there was something terribly wrong. My doctors did an MRI and some special X-rays and came to the conclusion that when I am standing, I have three herniated discs in my back. And there’s an unexplained muscle spasm in my back that’s progressed. One surgeon said he can put two rods in my back to make me stand straighter, but when he puts in the screws, he might create more pain than he is resolving. So I haven’t had surgery. The opioids worked; they are about the only thing that has worked. But my tolerance increased and I needed more. So then it was like, “OK, this is going in the wrong direction.”
I have tried just about everything, and the only thing that consistently helps—they sure don’t cure the pain—are the opioids. We’ve done the Lyrica, which made me wonky and very sleepy. We’ve tried Butrans, Cymbalta, and medical marijuana. The first time I tried medical marijuana—the stuff stinks—I went out into the garage and did what I was told to do. I started feeling very strange. I started to not be able to move and I lost the ability to speak... While I was in that state I didn’t have much pain, but I wasn’t able to function either! I have tried the CBD oil, but it didn’t work, so we defaulted back to the opioids again. I started Botox injections recently for my muscle spasms.
I have tried numerous physio programs. I’ve done mindfulness breathing techniques. My GP said that there are always concerns about depression with pain issues and taking opioids. I’ve seen a couple of psychologists. They basically said I need to get my pain a little better under control so that we can deal with the mind aspect.
My GP retired, and the doctor who has taken over his practice seems a bit skittish about prescribing opioids because of this whole political thing about the opioid crisis. I don’t want anyone to ever think that I am abusing or misusing. When I have needed more, I have contacted my GP and said it’s not working. I have never had that euphoria they talk about. It’s just been my pain level that has decreased. It's more about pain management and control, rather than pain killing. Because to kill my pain, I would be crashed on the bed, and that doesn’t make me very useful to anybody.
My GP has said, “You know what? You are just going to have to learn to accept this because this is probably going to be the way you are for the rest of your life.” And I’m like, “I am not willing to roll over and give up.” I am at home at times in unbearable pain, with no options. Sometimes I have nothing left to do but go to the ER, which is not appropriate. But what do I do?
It will be five years this coming August. Just being able to drive into the city without severe pain would be great. I used to do a lot of the maintenance on our vehicles. Now they are deteriorating, everything is deteriorating. I’d like to be a better husband, a better father. To go ice fishing. That’s not a strenuous activity, but I can’t do it.
At one point when I physically could not continue to meet the WSIB’s demands about working, they cut off my benefits, though they had to continue paying me a small portion. We were faced with selling our home. We went from September to last February with nothing coming in. Now Canada Pension Plan has picked up, and WSIB has stepped back in and reinstated my income.
We’ve had to pay for a lot of stuff ourselves—acupuncture, massage. There’s an individual who’s been seeing me for free, which doesn’t sit well with me. My work partner, her parents and my co-workers put on an event last March and raised a considerable amount of money to help us. We have been blessed by so many people helping us in ways that we never expected, and at the same time we have run into a system that has been cruel at times.
I have a problem with how the government and the powers that be are looking at things. They talk about the opioid crisis. But a lot of people are not taking opioids for the right reasons. People like me are taking them for pain control, and in my opinion, for the right reasons. It’s the addiction problem, not the opioid problem. I know of people who have doctors who've gotten scared and have said they aren't prescribing anymore; find a new doctor.
When people with pain issues have a doctor who is not stepping up because they are afraid to prescribe, that’s bad. These people have been left high and dry. What options are they left with? Some of them have gone through illegal ways to get opioids, which is dangerous. You don’t know what you are getting.