One Account of Navigating the Minefield of Pain Medicine

At Jezebel, Amiee Lutkin writes of the experience of her mother, and how her chronic pain - and its treatment - became life-threatening until the correct treatment was prescribed. Her mother's complex medical history and development of an ulcer after the over-use of a common pain medication made Fentanyl the best choice to manage her pain.

Ms. Lutkin offers a sympathetic and nuanced look at the difficulties of pain management in our current social, medical, and political environments. She speaks with doctors and patients and is certain to not ignore context. The whole thing is worth a read, but an excerpt I found salient:

It’s easy to be casual about other people’s pain, and that’s the beginning of the disconnect between people who are suffering and the systems meant to help them. Dr. Hansen believes that many of his patients are worn down and disenfranchised by years of not only physical difficulties, but the mental exhaustion of being told to “suck it up.”


I’ve now watched my mother take fentanyl for over a decade. I’ve answered more phone calls to her crying than I can count, because another doctor was threatening to stop prescribing the only drug that has ever relieved her pain and still allowed her to be herself. Because the pharmacist messed up the paperwork, or closed early, and she was facing a long weekend without relief. Because she’d been humiliated by a nurse or physician’s assistant who saw a woman racked with anxiety and dismissed her as an addict. Every ten days she finds out if she can continue to live without debilitating pain for another ten days.

With all these hurdles, of course, she wishes she didn’t need fentanyl, but in her state, detoxing is a very challenging option. She says, “My body is so used to it, I have no idea. I know a few times when I didn’t have enough, or sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I just scream when I’ll put my feet on the floor. So I’d have to figure out how to live with that.”

And because of withdrawal coupled with her MS, Pam says she could have seizures or die. “It’s not like I was just abusing drugs, I’d have to find a way to deal with the pain also. And then to be sick on top of it, even if I get a cold now, it makes my body very week for weeks afterwards. So I can’t imagine doing a detox. I also have problems with swallowing and that’s about breathing, so vomiting with detox doesn’t sound very safe…

“I think it’s a good clean drug,” she considers. “I try not to read any of the bad stuff about it. I haven’t been able to drink champagne. That’s the only thing I miss. It’s tough being sick.”

She laughs.