Last month I went to the emergency room with tightness in my chest and shortness of breath. I answered a bunch of questions about my medical history, told them about my depression and bipolar, the meds I am on and made it clear that I am a recovered alcoholic/addict and that I do not want to be given any medications that might cause me to relapse.
The doctor came, looked at my chart, looked at me and asked if I was in pain. I said no, just uncomfortable tightness and shortness of breath. .
“Do you have any pain?” the doctor asked.
“I’m going to give you some Ativan. It will help you relax,” the doctor said.
“No you’re not,” I said. “I’m a recovered alcoholic/addict and I don’t take benzos.”
“Why?” the doctor asked.
At this point, my chest tightens even more. Really, doctor?
“Because I’m a recovered alcoholic/addict and I don’t take drugs that can make me high to help me relax,” I said.
“Okay, how about some morphine?” the doctor asked.
My chest tightens and my blood pressure rises. I want to say, “Are you effing kidding me?” but I don’t.
“No,” I said. “No morphine. I don’t take opiates, either.”
“Well, then I’m just going to give you baby aspirin,” he said and walks out.
The nurse looks at me and says, “I get it. Don’t worry. I’m going to write NO BENZOS OR OPIATES in your chart and I’m going to put this red allergy bracelet on your arm just to make sure you don’t get any.”
Last week the same thing happened to a friend of mine – a recovered heroin addict. He went to the ER with a bad infection in his big toe. His toe was red and swollen and it hurt badly when he stood. He told the doctor the pain wasn’t so bad when he sat down. The doctor asked him if he wanted any painkillers.
“No,” he told the doctor, “I’m in recovery.”
Then the nurses asked him if he wanted painkillers. Then the doctor asked again. Finally, they gave up and gave him some extra-strength Tylenol.
On the flip side, I met a young woman last weekend – a newly recovered addict – who said she was just about out of her psych meds and couldn’t afford them. The staff said they would call her mother about her insurance and getting the girl enough money for the co-pay. The staff didn’t call, she said. She had just a day’s worth of medication remaining.
I also heard about another young woman – also in recovery – who told the staff at her outpatient treatment program that she was pregnant but was going to have an abortion. They immediately took her off her medications without considering alternative medications or that sudden withdrawal from the medications might cause her to relapse.
Getting clean and sober is hard enough. We don’t need doctors ignoring our efforts to stay clean by offering us benzos and opiates. And we don’t need doctors and their staff to cut us off or allow us to go cold turkey. These aren’t M&Ms. These are extremely potent drugs. The withdrawal symptoms can be horrible.
If you are dual-diagnosed like me, medications are as essential as 12-Step meetings, therapy and not trusting doctors.
Doctor dispensing medications available from Shutterstock.