I recently was hospitalized for a condition that is extremely painful. The treatment consists of pain medication and fluids.
I was receiving morphine on a schedule. On the fourth day in the hospital, the doctor decided to discontinue my IV pain medication and replace it with a weak narcotic alternative. My symptoms were actually worse on this day. I was experiencing level nine pain and was crying nonstop.
When the doctor arrived, after two hours of crying, I received what I call “The Opiate Lecture.” While in a state of misery, I was told there is risk of addiction for being on the IV medication, and at the point I could eat and drink, I should be moved to oral medication. The doctor switched my medication, before knowing I had been throwing up all liquids and still could not eat food. How can a person take oral medication when they can’t keep anything down?
I had to be my own advocate. I also had the help of my mother. I know the dangers of opiates and the opioid epidemic. I also know that patients in hospitals recover faster with proper pain control. I asked myself, “Why am I the person he is lecturing, and why is it being done at this time?” When a patient is in a crisis, and in serious pain, is that really the time to talk about addiction? Shouldn’t the patient's treatment and life of the patient come first?
After 15 minutes of fighting for my right to receive adequate medical care, the doctor decided to put me back on my medication and get me out of the severe pain crisis I was in. What if a person is in the same position, but does not have the ability to fight for himself/herself? What if the person does not have a family member or friend to be their advocate? The worst part about the situation is that I felt guilty for being sick, and that I didn’t deserve proper pain management and care of my health. No one should be made to feel like that when they are a patient with a real medical issue that produces severe pain.
I know that a lot of doctors are afraid of the drug seekers, causing them to get reprimanded by the Drug Enforcement Agency for overprescribing them. This is understandable. But this is no reason to treat a very low-risk patient as someone who is seeking drugs, just because they are in severe pain. This situation changed the rest of my hospital stay. I did not want to ask for medication, even when I needed it. I did not want the doctor to think I wanted medication, so I let myself experience pain. This hurt me because it slowed my healing process and required a longer hospital stay. It made me lose trust in this hospital and medical care in general.
The goal of sharing this is for society to not just focus on reducing opiate use, but seek the proper treatment for those who need opiates. Another goal is to educate others, particularly doctors and others in the medical field, to put themselves in their patients' shoes and to not make patients feel guilty for wanting to not be in severe pain. There is a time and a place to talk to a patient about opiate use, but when they are in the hospital in severe pain, it is not one of them.
Stefanie Daubert is a Bakersfield resident and a master of social work student. She can be reached at Paintingsbystef@gmail.com.