The Perils of Chronic Pain in Recovery

I had been back in the rooms for a year-and-a-half when I developed a devastatingly painful shoulder condition. My shoulder had been hurting for months, slowly getting stiffer by the day, and the pain became more excruciating as the weeks went by. At first I thought it was from my overly heavy beat-up Balenciaga handbag, laden with gum, lotion, business cards, tampons, change and lip gloss, that I religiously cart around. But I started to take my injury more seriously when I couldn’t raise my arm to the side or above my head: it was literally frozen. After a few misdiagnoses—torn rotator cuff and tendinitis—many X-rays and loud-banging MRI’s, I was eventually crowned with a little-known but incredibly painful diagnoses of “Frozen Shoulder.”

“Is that like cold shoulder?” fellow comics would joke.

“Oh yes, but much bitchier,” I’d reply.

While I’d heard about people going out on pain pills after years of sobriety, I rationalized that pills weren’t my bag.

“Frozen Shoulder”—or “adhesive capsulitis” as it’s known in the medical community—is when the shoulder capsule thickens and becomes tight; small adhesions form and movement is limited and painful. The cause is unknown, although it can also come on after a period of immobilization due to a surgery or fracture. But I’d had no injuries or operations. Had my chronic laziness finally caught up with me?

Whatever the cause, I was in agony. I couldn’t sleep because of the tight gripping pain in my joint on the cap of the shoulder radiating down my forearm. I was up every 25 minutes to soak in a hot bath or apply an ice pack. My days were spent rocking and weeping, downing so much Tylenol that my liver would cry out. You could smell me coming from a block away: I stank of Tiger Balm and Bengay.

I tried everything—acupuncture, massage, Cortisone shots, Novocain shots, topical ketamine cream, Lidocaine patches—and none of it worked. Finally, I consented to pain medication.

While I’d heard about people going out on pain pills after years of sobriety, I rationalized that pills weren’t my bag. (I didn’t know then that you could always get a new bag.) “What’s the worst that could happen?” I’d think. “I get addicted and have to get sober again?” No worries. I’d done it dozens of times.

So a sober doctor prescribed me the prescription drug, Norco, which is acetaminophen and hydrocodone. I hated it immediately. It was too short acting, the effect too heady and muddy. I’d always hated downers (I was an “upper” girl at heart) and this was no exception. Next: Oxycodone. My doctor knew I was a recovering addict and warned me that there was a chance I might get hooked. And even though I’ve never been lucky, the pain was so unbearable that I decided to take the chance. To be on the safe side, I handed the pills over to my husband and asked him to dole them out. While nobody I talked to thought this was a good idea, nobody talked me out of it, either.

Read more…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.