Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ankle Surgery and Painkillers

Well, I just came out of the fog after 12 long days of painkillers after ankle surgery. I learned a lot, maybe more than I may have cared too, but learning from a life experience is better than not.

Injury to my left ankle started back in 2000 when I was in PLDC, (the school you go to to become a Sergeant in the US Army) when during a offense/defense ambush my team was high on a mountain in Uijongbu, South Korea. After laying in the prone position for a few hours, I really had to pee, and ask the female DI if I could go to the bathroom. She suggested a place behind a few trees nearby. As I walked to her "hidden pee place" I stepped onto what I thought was a pile of leaves and I fell into what seemed like a sinkhole of rotting leaves. A large infantry guy ran to my aid, threw me over his soldier in the "fireman's carry" and carried me to the medic. I almost failed PLDC because of this, but instead "sucked it up" finished all the requirements and became a Sergeant. This incident was the 1st in a long succession of left ankle sprains thereafter; trying to do a soccer ball trick while playing on the Post Soccer, a drunken fall from a friends front porch, and another twist of the ankle during a Battalion run, and a few others that have all sort of blurred together.

This last month, my ankle gave out while on the bottom stair in my house, and into a hole in Mom's front yard. After 2 in one month, I knew it was time.

I saw a private Surgeon after receiving my 1st opinion 3 years ago. Back then, I was newly clean and sober and too scared to attempt a surgery with the possibility of painkillers in the mix. My 2nd opinion, by the new surgeon, was basically exactly the same as the 1st opinion. Only instead of inserting a cadaver's ligaments and tendons into my ankle, this Surgeon promised to use MY remaining tissue to repair the non-working tendons and ligaments. The new Surgeon said, he would simply scope my ankle in 2 separate places to take a look at it and then stretch my remaining ligaments to make them tighter and re-attach them to each bone on the outer left side of my ankle to preventing it from being so flexible and prone to instability.  I decided to go ahead with the surgery after a long discussion with the Surgeon about my past addiction to opiates. He promised to work closely with me and help me in being proactive in my recovery from them while taking them after surgery.

I had surgery on September 2nd, and remembered something murmured in my fentanyl/morphine/anesthesia state about a wire that was implanted in my ankle during the surgery. I asked my Mom later, who was there to be my ride home, exactly what the Surgeon said but she said she didn't really hear anything about a wire.

Day 3: The nerve block in my lower leg wore off and I felt it. It did not feel good down there. I was suddenly overly frustrated with how in the hell I was supposed to hop on one leg to the kitchen to make coffee, and hop back without spilling it. I called my Aunt to borrow a skateboard.

I started taking the painkillers as prescribed right when I started feeling the sensation coming back in my toes. It was so strange to be paralyzed for 2 days from the knee down and no matter how hard I tried to wiggle my toes in my mind, they would not move. It kinda creeped me out, and made me realize how much I take my legs for granted on a daily basis.

It was also strange to me after not taking any sort of painkillers that, after the 1st pill, I got a small rush from the medicine hitting my system. I am so used to feeling "normal", or better yet, "clean", that having a drug in my system again, freaked me out a little and brought me to the brink of a panic attack. But, at the same time, I was killing legitimate pain and it was working with those little magic pills.

Day 5: I went in for a "dressing change" and got to look at it. I had 2 small holes where the scope went in and one large cut where the surgery took place. It's kind of like Christmas when they unwrap you and you get to see it for the first time.

It was that day during the dressing change, that I found out what exactly the Surgeon decided to do after he saw the inside of my ankle. He drilled a hole into my tibia and inserted a titanium screw with a wire attached and then sewed the wire to one of my ligaments on the calcaneus bone. Now I knew why I felt pain shoot up from my foot and hit me right in one of my fillings all while making a pot of coffee. The PA and I joked that I would now go off in the TSA line at the Airport.


Day 10: I know I am getting close to having to stop taking the pills exactly every 4 to 6 hours like the bottle said. I finally slept through the entire night, without waking up when the medication wore off. I started waiting 8 1/2 hours, 9 1/2 hours before I took another one. It wasn't so successful after I realized maybe I was being a little stubborn by waiting so long to take them. It was pretty painful waiting 45 minutes until the pain dulled down a bit. At Day 10, I still couldn't leave my leg un-elevated very long, as the blood would rush down immediately and I would feel dizzy and faint.

Day 14: Almost finished with the prescription of 60 pills and know its time to do it on my own. It was kind of like the old times. I enjoyed them being here for a little while, but when it's time to say "Goodbye" it turns into more of a "Good Riddens". I'm kind of happy not to have to take them anymore.

The first 10 or so days, I felt nothing from them except for them doing exactly what they are supposed to do. After that, 1 stops working and I had to take 2. Then, my head started playing tricks on me and I started thinking I was going to end up right where I was 4 years ago. Not only were they dulling my pain, but they were also starting to dull some of my emotions and making me feel zombie-like with a tad bit of amnesia. All the days start running together and the blur of laying on the couch with my foot propped up starts feeling like Groundhog Day. I wasn't sure if was 12-step groups' brainwashing or me talking in my head, but I started to get a little scared and confused. The chatter in my head becomes overwhelming, and I start thinking, "where can I get more?" "when can I refill this?" "will the Dr. think I am an addict if I ask for more, more, more?" The hole I feel inside, where I think pills belong, opens back up and I want to dump in more and more. And then I yell in my head "STOP!" I know I am being crazy, and it's been a long time since I was an addict. I know all the work I've done on myself counted and all the demons I have unleashed are long gone. It was actually surprising to me that the fuel wasn't there anymore like it was 4 years ago. Back then I couldn't even control myself, the pills were controlling me big time. I remember putting 10 Norco in my hand at a time, chewing them into little pieces so they would digest faster, then filling my hand with 10 more and chewing those too. I did that 3 times a day. That's the equivalent of 120 Vicodin A DAY! How far I've come that it gave me a panic attack to take 2 at once.

I once heard, every cell in your body is regenerated and made anew every 6 years or so, so technically this is not even the same body I had when I was an addict 4 years ago. But the thoughts seem to be the same old voices trying to self-destruct me all over again.

It's like Iraq all over again, only inside my head this time. The second time.

I then reach out to my 1 and only friend, who basically knows me better than myself and she reassures me that no, I am not crazy and this is normal. I decide she is right, as always. Pills are kind of like alcohol to me and they are both my Kryptonite. There is just no place for either of them in my life. The good voices won and drowned out the negative ones and the war is won. Oh sweet VICTORY!

I am looking forward to so much, and leaving more and more of my past behind. My next entry on this blog, will be about me going back to college after 10 years of being away. God knows, college pressure is enough stress, why add addiction to that?

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