An uncivilized racket made my brain scream NO! that morning of June 2, 1995 - it was the alarm clock. It seemed as though I had just laid my exhausted body in bed just moments before. Through blurred eyes, I located the alarm clock and slammed my fist down on the snooze button, allowing me nine more precious minutes of sleep. By the time it went off again, it was 4:15 am, and time to get to it. Before I knew it, I was kissing my wife, Kim, good-bye, and running out the door. I had to be on the job site at the State Penitentiary in Baltimore by 6:00 am. And so started another day of industrial painting. The least thankful type of painting imaginable.
I arrived on time and worked my butt off - as usual. The smells of a half dozen trades filled the air. The carpenters with their wood, the plumbers with their torches and copper pipes, and of course us, and our M.E.K. and industrial paints. “We” were weeks behind schedule, constantly playing a game of catch-up, trying to keep the State Inspectors happy - putting out this fire and that. The pace was killing me, but I loved it dearly. I loved having my tail against the wall. After eight or ten hours at the “Penn”, we were heading off to another job and worked until 10:00 pm. Tack on a 1 1/2 hour drive home each evening, and so explains my exhaustion.
About a 1/2 hour before lunch that day, I had to go down to the first floor to get some supplies. When I went down the steps, another one of our crews was in the process of spray painting the undersides of staircases. They were in the neighborhood of the steps I was going down, but had yet to paint any of them. I secured my supplies and proceeded to run back up the three flights of steps - three steps at a time. Then it happened!
That other crew had painted the last flight of steps I had to climb, and
failed to remove the scaffold they had used. I was about five steps from where I needed to be when I S L A M M E D my forehead and bridge of my nose into the scaffold. I totally blanked out for five or ten seconds, but managed not to fall down the steps. A few of my comrades, including the owner of the company came to my aid, but I just brushed it off as I had on several previous mishaps over the years. My recovery time was about 1/2 hour with a bag of ice on my head while laying down. That was my “lunch hour.”
I made it home to my loving wife early that day. I decided to take the night off from the other job site. My forehead swelled like a baseball, and I had a nasty cut on my nose, but otherwise felt fine.
Several days later, that company fired me saying I was too slow to keep up with them. It was the first time in my life I had ever been fired - from anything, and of course I resented it. The news came on a particularly bad night. It was Kim’s and my four year anniversary, and I had rented a hotel room with a Jacuzzi, supplied it with wine, roses, and a beautiful $1,200.00 ring. That night was one of our best ever, and I wasn’t about to let anything disturb it. Luckily, I had plenty of side work from my previous business. I had plenty of “Taco Bells”, “Checkers”, and other long-time clients to keep me going for months. Nothing was going to ruin this night; we were incredibly in love, I had plenty of business, and life was but a dream come true.
About ten days after my injury, my neck started bothering me. It was very stiff. At first I ignored it. I had trained myself to do that. You have to ignore pain when you have your own business. But each day, it got worse and worse. During one of Kim’s and my many camping trips, I found it impossible to sleep due to the horrible pain in my neck. I had a hunch as to the cause, but continued to ignore it. Finally, I could take it no longer, and went to see my chiropractor. He had always adjusted my lower back into shape - surely he could fix my neck. That’s when he delivered the bad news.
After a battery of X-rays, I was told I had three herniated discs; C4/5, 5/6, and 6/7. NOW WHAT? I’ve never had an injury like this! He tried his best to treat me, but it was to no avail. I then turned to an Orthopod. He advised me to take a couple of weeks off, do some conservative therapy, and gave me some mild pain killers. This didn’t work either, and I had to get back to work.
My days and nights of work from then on were filled with excruciating pain. In addition to the neck pain, I had a searing, burning pain shooting down my left arm and hand, and as luck would have it, I’m left handed. One of my clients was a track coach for a university in Virginia, and he had me heating my neck with my microwavable “Bed Buddy” in the morning on the way to work with towels covering it to hold in the heat as long as possible, and numbing it with ice when I got home. With that therapy, combined with eleven shots of Cortisone in
twelve weeks, plenty of Vicoden E.S., and tons of NSAIDS, I made it through a total of over four months from the time of the accident. But finally, in tears, on October 10, 1995, I told my then current full time employers that I could no longer take it. It killed me to give into the pain, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer. Additionally, the NSAIDS had made my stomach mush. I couldn’t eat anything without immediately having to find a bathroom. This, despite the eight to ten Immodium A.D.’s I was consuming per day. More than once did I accidentally mess my pants, and that’s not a pretty sight when working in painters' “white-whites.” :)
I called my Ortho. and lined up surgery in two weeks. He fused the top two discs, and for a little while, the arm and neck pain went away. After six weeks with the hard brace on most of the day, it was time to take it off. I was healed! NOT! I kept going back to my doc, and he just couldn’t understand the problem. It was a solid fusion, and “C6/7 wasn’t herniated bad enough to be causing any problems.” So I got more shots, and more Vicoden with the warning that he would have to soon stop giving me the narcs because he couldn’t figure out what the problem was, therefore, there couldn’t be one!
I went to a doc at John’s Hopkins, and was very disappointed. In the meantime, although I was in very bad pain, I went to school to study law - the first time I was in a classroom in over 20 years. YIKES!! From the Hopkins’ doc I went to a different neurosurgeon. I won’t mention his name because I am on the verge of suing him. He did an incredible job of keeping me out of pain for eight months by giving me a “nerve block” that went straight into C6/7 - and it went in deep! There was no Fluoroscopy. It was done right in his office, and they were brutally painful. However, the second he withdrew the needle, which was filled only with Marcain, I was almost completely out of pain. It was amazing! By this time, I suppose the change in the family situation put a strain on Kim’s and my relationship. It was so sad. I had never loved, and probably never will love anyone as much in my life. Things were bad, and after several sessions with the neighborhood marriage counselor, we separated on June 26, 1996. Almost a year to the date of the wonderful fourth anniversary night. God was a that somber time.
My doc kept me going for some time, but it was becoming evident that his treatments were getting us nowhere. So I hit the Internet for help. That is when I found out I had Chronic Pain. With the arrival of fall of 1996, my pain went through the roof. This kind of pain was new and unwelcomed. I started pushing my doc for a different method of controlling my pain, all along, only being given Vicoden E.S. However, when I got the nerve blocks, the Vicoden was semi-effective. I was still going to school, although finding it harder and harder to concentrate. I had to withdrawal from classes right-and-left, but still somehow maintained a 3.3 G.P.A. My doc had started to push the idea of a
“spinal cord stimulator.” I was all for it not knowing of any other remedy for my pain. He swore surgery would do me no good.
After a particularly horrible flare-up, which lasted days, I finally gave in and went to the E.R. to get a shot of Demerol. It was a Thursday night. Upon being discharged, I was given three or four pills of Demerol, and told to get in touch with my pain doc. I did so, explaining the situation and begged to get in for a life-saving nerve block. The best he could do for me was first thing Monday morning. My doc called into Rite-Aid, the standard two or three mgs. of Xanax needed to sedate me for the block. After the first block, I had asked him to do this due to the overwhelming pain of the needle. I called my sister-in-law, Kellie, who lived 40 miles away from me, and lined up a ride for my 9:00 am visit. Once at my house, we had another 45 miles to go, but we made it there on time. What happened next was the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life. It eclipsed the death of my mother and the divorce of my wife - combined.
Upon being called into the office expecting to receive the block as promised, I was instead greeted by a berating, vicious “man” calling me an addict. I about fell out of my chair. Kellie didn’t know what to think for this was just the opposite of the description I had given her of my kind and understanding doc. In my drug-clouded mind, I tried to figure out what I had done to deserve this! Had I been disrespectful? Had I misunderstood the purpose of the visit? Nothing I could come up with made any sense for the actions of this Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde. I had brought with me some information I had downloaded and showed it to him. He quickly snatched it from my hands and called my caseworker at Work Comp and explained that he was no longer going to treat me, that I needed help for my addiction, and suggested I be admitted into the Johns Hopkins’ Pain Clinic - the information I had just provided him with. It was an unconscionable act by someone who was always very compassionate. This doc and I went through a lot together. Many a time he had soothed my tears of pain and fear - but now he was turning on me like a caged lion. I left the office without any prescriptions, and without the pain-saving nerve block (even though there is no narcotic in the block). His rationale for his actions were that “this would make those at Work Comp pay attention, and get me treatment for my addiction.” I was not examined. I was not asked any questions. He didn’t even make eye contact with me. In fact, when I mentioned something about jumping off the Bay Bridge, he didn’t even look up. Nothing. His rationale for this addiction issue was based upon my giving in to going to the E.R. after days of nightmarish pain, something I had done on at least two other occasions during his watch, and being given Demerol pills each time. It is my understanding that this was/is a standard procedure for the E.R. What do I know?
I was finally linked with a pain doc from Hopkins within three or four weeks, but my pain was NEVER kept in check. I walked around in a painful stupor. It was...I can’t find words for it. I’m sure each and every one of you know what I’m talking about. The next 61/2 months were the worst months of my life. I learned the meaning of depression and suicide. I never left the house without a razor blade in my wallet - just in case the urge hit me. And I had a deadly mixture of pills on my dresser in case I wanted to do it in my sleep.
Finally, quite by accident, I was hooked up with Dr. Nelson Hendler,
Director of the Mensana Pain Clinic, in Stevenson, Md. He introduced me to many things I was never shown by the seventeen prior docs. First and foremost, he showed compassion. I was in tears of joy and relief when I got off the phone with him for the first time. I could just sense it by the tone of his voice. He also employs, are you ready for this, common sense. For over two years, I had been asking docs if they thought a muscle relaxer would help me. “No, that has nothing to do with your neck” I was told. Not So!! I ran it by doc Hendler and his response was, “Sure, why not. Lets give it a try.” BINGO - IT WORKED. I was also introduced to life-giving support group meetings, Bio-Feedback and Guided Imagery. Without all of these helpful attributes from Doc Hendler and his staff at Mensana, it’s fairly safe to say that I may not be writing this letter today. “I just can’t take it” was the main statement coming across my lips.
After many exams, tests, shots, blocks, a discogram, and more tests, I
finally received my second surgery on November 11, 1997 to fuse C6/7 with added hardware. Slowly but surely, my pain abated. It lessened to the point to where I started to cut back on my meds. WOW! I was walking on air with a smile on face and a long-lost glow in my heart. God had answered all of those prayers! But as slowly as the pain decreased, it came back - with a vengeance! My surgeon and I aren’t sure why, but I KNOW something isn’t right “in there.” This year alone, I’ve received 59 trigger-point injections, with only few administered in January. Here we go again!
I ponder for
hours why the pain came back, yet haven’t come up with an
answer as of yet. So I “hang in there,” like most of you reading this, and wait for
the next move - probably more surgery. I also can’t stop thinking about how
things would be if I had just done what my daughter Rita recommended after the
second fusion; "You should have just stayed in bed that day daddy.” HA! Kids
these days. They think they know everything!
Thanks for listening,