I'm not a junkie, so give me the painkillers, already
Hi, Orthopedic Surgeon, it's me. Your patient, who's having double knee surgery for two torn menisci and two Baker's cysts. You saw my MRIs and diagnosed the tears. Can we acknowledge I'm not some random ER patient complaining about indefinable back pain?
You know what I'm not doing? I'm not exhibiting the drug-seeking behavior of a potential abuser. But do I want some opioids for my injury? Yes, please, absolutely. Five to eight pills would be perfect.
I know a meniscus tear is a fairly common knee injury. After all, everyone has a meniscus, a crescent of cartilage under one's knee that cushions the friction between the upper and lower leg bones. It's nice to have that padding for climbing stairs, running, kneeling, squatting, stuff you might do multiple times a day but don't think about until it hurts to do it.
I'm not overly sensitive to pain. On the contrary, I'm that patient who didn't go to the orthopedist months ago, when my left knee first started aching and throbbing. I kept exercising, assuming I had early-onset arthritis because of all those marathons. I didn't even go when I felt an egg-sized lump in the back of my knee. (For the curious: A Baker's cyst, named for William Morrant Baker, the 19th-century British surgeon who first described it, is one of your body's responses to a knee injury.)
The pain isn't unbearable, but eventually it became strong enough to stop me from normal exercise. I made an appointment. Got the MRI. And the diagnosis. Now, I'm icing. Resting. Taking ibuprofen and naproxen. Except I'm not supposed to take ibuprofen or naproxen the week before surgery, because they are blood thinners.
This constant, nagging pain is bringing me down. Yes, I'm having surgery soon. It would be tomorrow if it were up to me. But until then, I still need to use my knees. Chase after my kids. Go to a friend's wedding. Get groceries.
But in this era of epic prescription-painkiller abuse, many doctors seem to view all patients as potential junkies not to be trusted with even the smallest amount of respite from the pain of a diagnosed injury.
That's an awful reality for many Americans.
I understand that doctors are responding to the catastrophe of the opioid epidemic. In 2016 alone, more than 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, and about 40% of those deaths involved prescription opioids, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Who is responsible is for the courts to sort out.
Any American who has turned on a TV or opened a laptop or looked at a smartphone during the past few years knows that opioids such as OxyContin are addictive and potentially deadly.
Right now, the overprescribing seems to have prompted an overcorrection. I like to think I have an enormous sense of social responsibility, but right now, I'm looking out for me. I don't want opioids so I can get high or do drug sales. I want them because they can temporarily combat the relentless drag and occasional depression that accompany injury pain.
In conclusion, Orthopedic Surgeon (and all doctors, really), can you ease up on prohibiting medications that help patients in pain to relax a bit? They're not terrible drugs. They're terrible drugs in the wrong hands.
Amber Petrovich is a Los Angeles writer. She wrote this op-ed for The Washington Post.
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