Friday, 29 December 2017

Cold Turkey

Like many people in the first world, our palates have become somewhat jaded from gorging on festive fare. The number of ways in which turkey, gammon, sausages, stuffing and sprouts can be served is indeed limited. On top of this problem of plenty, I’ve also been suffering from agitation, insomnia, anxiety, the sweats, muscle aches, cramps and diarrhoea. This is not because I didn’t get what I wanted from Santa, but because I stopped taking opioids (morphine-based painkillers) on Christmas Day and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms. I haven’t yet seen any pink elephants climbing the walls, but I guess there is still time.

When I left hospital three months ago I was taking 50 mg of morphine a day. A thoracotomy (the opening up of your ribs) is one of the most painful surgical incisions. My morphine dosage was very slowly stepped down until three weeks ago, when I finished the course and began to rely entirely on prescription strength co-codamol tablets. Codeine is also an opioid and, as I have found, very hard on the stomach. On Christmas Eve we opened a bottle of champagne, the first we’d had all year, and my stomach became very sore after just half a glass. I stopped drinking and had a long discussion with T, who had severe stomach problems in the past. The next day I stopped the co-codamol tablets and returned to the painkilling patch on my left side and straight paracetamol. I also began a short course of omeprazole to help heal the stomach. My festive season was thus turkey full and alcohol free.

The pain in my left side had been reducing very steadily, but the wound got stirred up during Rex’s disappearance. Firstly, I climbed over the back fence, pulling up with both arms, whilst looking for him in the field behind the house. Secondly, T accidentally knocked the right side of my face when I was leaning forward and I flinched backwards, pulling the muscles of my left side. These two pulls in quick succession seem to have irritated the drain site and put me back into plenty of pain. The drain site is at the bottom of my ribs, on the left side, where a tube was inserted into the lung cavity during surgery. The tube was removed and the hole stitched up before I left hospital. In the weeks after the operation it was possibly the most painful place on my body, although there was plenty of competition. So what has probably happened is that an internal scar, called an adhesion, around the drain site has been torn a little and has irritated a nerve. The painkilling patch is working well and in a few weeks I expect the tear will heal and the nerve will settle down again. I’m pretty confident that I haven’t done anything bad to the hernia repair.

In the meantime, I also have to cope with the withdrawal symptoms from the opioids. I am shocked at how strong they’ve been. I have hardly slept these past few days and I feel easily agitated and very anxious. Despite this, I’m glad to say that I don’t feel drawn to re-start taking opioids (I still have a bottle of liquid morphine on the bedside table). No wonder long-term addicts find it so difficult to get off smack for good. I’ve read that the withdrawal symptoms are most intensive for the first two weeks and after that they decline. The only upside is that I don’t have to take laxatives anymore. 

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