Eight years ago this week, I was legally crossing a street in Washington, D.C. when I was struck down by a State Department security SUV making an illegal turn. My left tibial plateau was shattered, and I needed two major surgeries and many months of painful physical therapy to recover. All told, it was almost two years before I was able to walk unaided again without braces or crutches or canes, and I still don’t have full movement in my left knee. It still aches most of the time, but I’ve learned to live with it.
I would not have been able to get through that long, painful ordeal without opioids. I don’t think I’d be here right now if the only thing I’d been given to relieve the constant, tormenting pain was… aspirin.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has drawn jeers for suggesting that people in pain should consider over-the-counter Bufferin instead of opioids…
“I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids,” Sessions said. “People need to take some aspirin sometimes.”
I’m not sure where Jeff Sessions got his medical license, but his bedside manner could use some work.
It’s true that there’s an opioid crisis in America. I know people who have experienced the human cost of it, and it’s awful. It’s too easy to get opioids when you don’t need them for medical reasons, and it’s too tough to get help if you become addicted. But that’s no reason to punish people who really do need them.
I was on opioids for about 18 months, off and on, and I knew all the horror stories about addiction. A guy starts taking painkillers for an injury, and then he can’t stop even after he heals up. Happens all the time. I worried about it happening to me, and I’m glad it didn’t. I hated the way I felt while taking that stuff — woozy, feverish, clammy, unable to concentrate — but I wouldn’t have been able to endure that ordeal without it. As bad as it was, without that relief from the unrelenting anguish, it would’ve been a thousand times worse.
Pain isn’t something you can explain to other people. Before my accident, I had heard and read countless stories about people recovering from painful injuries, and I thought I knew what it was like. I had no idea until it happened to me. That feeling of helplessness, wondering how you’re going to get through the next five minutes. Feeling trapped inside a body that does nothing but hurt. Just wanting some relief. You can’t think about the past or the future. You’re trapped in an endless, agonizing now. It does things to your mind and your soul, and in some ways I’m still dealing with it.
That which didn’t kill me did make me stronger in some ways. But in other ways, not so much.
And there are a lot of people out there who are worse off than I ever was. They need more than just aspirin. They’re not trying to get high. They’re not trying to pull one over on anybody. They just want their existence to be a bit less hellish.
I’ll never really know what those people are going through, and neither will you, and neither will Jeff Sessions. Yes, we need to do something about the opioid crisis. No, the answer is not “Take an aspirin, wimp.”
Just something for Sessions to think about while he’s up there in his tree making those cookies.
(And yes, I did get a settlement from the State Department. It took way too long, and until recently the “contributory negligence” laws in the D.C. area were stacked against pedestrians. I should’ve gotten a lot more, considering what I went through. But at least it’s over. That part of it, at least.)