Stephanie, 57, has been married to our patient contributor Andy for 19 years. She has three children from a previous marriage and two stepchildren from Andy’s first marriage. Her biggest concern has always been making sure Andy does not become too dependent on pain medication. She had trouble understanding his pain and his avoidance of social situations. He had had surgeries and other procedures before she and Andy started their relationship, but he was not pain free. She wanted to motivate Andy to be proactive about his chronic back issues. She found a neurosurgeon that ended up bringing Andy the pain relief he didn’t think was possible.
I’m Stephanie, and I’ve have been married to Andy for 19 years. And, I have three children and he has two. We’re a blended family. My kids are 31, 28, and 23. And his kids are 28 and 27. I’m a realtor now and in my new old age I had a business for 15 years I kept a home accessory business with a partner, and that was a lot of fun, I miss it but I love real state.
As a caregiver with Andy dealing with his pain it’s hard, ‘cause my biggest concern has always been his reliance on prescription medication. And I saw how it was affecting him in his conversations, in our relationships with other friends within our family. He’s the president of a logistics transportation company and has ten-year experience forever in that business, and is well respected but I was watching that start to diminish and his response to that killed me because he won’t take ownership.
I’ve never really dealt with pain and it’s hard to be compassionate if you don’t have that experience of it. We would have fights before we would go out ‘cause all of the sudden it will be a social situation a dinner, a party an event, something going on, he’d have to take three hour naps before he could get there, then he would wake up and he wouldn’t wanna go. And you started to see a pattern there. And then I wanted him to back up and do something about it, well let’s go see the doctor! And it was very scary for him, because his first surgery, that he had before I knew him, it was for a slip disk in his neck.
And this is when they use to do it when you’re in the cage and your bent so it was easy access. They don’t do that anymore ‘cause a neural embolism went to his heart, and he had a heart attack, and he sustained further nerve damage where his hands are atrophied and fire in his arms, and then he had lower back surgery. It didn’t help and he hand steroid injections with epidurals, he had an ablation where they burned the nerves. Nothing helped.
How did I learn to deal with this pain? I don’t think I did. I learned a little bit, I got busier, ‘cause I didn’t wanna deal with that, ‘cause more relational and I like people around me and I love my friends, I love my family, I love my husband, I love everybody, and for me to sit on a couch, if I watched one more TV show I was going to implode ‘cause that’s not who I am. And I saw anger starting to come into somebody who wasn’t angry, I was bitter.
But now when I look back, I see that, in the moment of it, even though it’s not too far long ago, I don’t think if you said, wow, you’re really angry and bitter, what? I am not! [LAUGHS] I would have denied it. Because I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to help him do something about it, exercise, swim, there’s no pressure on that, walk, go to the gym, let’s see a physical therapist. You know, I can’t just sit there and not do anything. That’s really hard for me and the more I pushed, the more he pushed away.
Because it was too painful, ‘cause when you’re in pain it is really hard to be motivated, it’s hard to be engaged, it’s hard to be in your life. It really is, and all he could do was work, cause that was kind of non-negotiable, work was it.
Pain medication is a complicated issue, and it’s so layered, I had a root canal recently. I woke up at 11:30 and I thought somebody was picking me up by an ice pick. I was shocked, how fast that was. So, of course, I leaned to my medicine man. I think it was Vicodin and then another one. And then he gave me Xanax, you gotta calm down, you just gotta try to go to sleep. Well that didn’t work. So about an hour and a half later, I said I have to go to the emergency room. And I have pretty high pain tolerance. So he gave me an Oxycodone. After that I was out. For two weeks I was taken out of my life. And I thought, if I had that, and those barely touched it. Can you imagine how he was?
But I wanted him to try to find alternative forms, whether it was acupuncture, or yoga or I don’t know, something, just try. It’s really hard, to get inside somebody else’s body and understand where they’re coming from. That whole tooth thing was a big wake up call for me on understanding pain.
His mom who was 87, 86 at the time, feisty, loved her. And she was gonna get surgery on her neck, so they found this doctor, and this very well-known hospital. I went with her, because I was concerned, that they weren’t asking the right questions and I just wanted to be there to hear. And I saw this doctor talk, and he spent so much time with her and was so good to her, that in the moment I’m like, this is Andy’s doctor.
And so I came home and I said, so Andy goes, “well you set it up, and you do this.” And just the energy to do that is huge, and I tell him all right I will. So I made him an appointment, we got his MRI’s, his scans over there, the doctor looked at him, and he got to take another look, and said I think I can help you. And I just burst into tears, I just thought, if this man can help him, but I wanted to be careful that it was not another, okay we’ll give it a try, there’s always a chance that it’s not going to be successful. And it was pretty aggressive surgery.