Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.
Sergeant Shane Savage went from war hero to chronic pain patient caught up in a medical system focused with laser-like intensity on dulling pain.
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Back in 2010, while Shane and his men were navigating dangerous roads in Afghanistan, their armored truck ran over a roadside bomb and was blown to bits. Shane survived, but he was left with a severe concussion and 24 broken bones. During the next couple years, the 27-year-old man underwent multiple surgeries on his foot and consumed copious amounts of pills for his ongoing pain, PTSD, depression, tremors, and other problems. These included high dosages of some of the strongest pain killers available; enough to dramatically affect his senses and his mood. Whenever Shane mentioned a problem to his doctors, he was given yet another pill. It got to the point where he was taking 12 different medicines a day. Help!
Despite taking all the different medications, Shane continued to suffer pain and his mood became very dark. His world seemed to shrink as he found it more difficult to interact with others and simply get around. Like so many others, Shane lost both himself and his independence to his pain. “Shane kind of turned into a completely different person,”1 his wife reported; at one point, he sat in his house crying for two days. Then he tried to kill himself—with an overdose of the same pain pills that were meant to help him
After a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, Shane returned to his regular regimen of medications, taking up to 300 milligrams of morphine per day. This hefty dose often left him feeling fogged over, detached from life, and lethargic. Although his family loved him as much as ever, he felt all alone.
It’s very difficult to feel loved when you don’t feel well.
It wasn’t until one of his daughters told him she couldn’t stand the person he had become that Shane resolved to get off the drugs. And he did. He began by hunting through his home and car to find and toss out every last pain pill. He also found his way to a special VA chronic pain program in Tampa that helped him get on a better path—one that now has him living again, despite all that he has been through.
When I present lectures to other physicians, I tell them that Sgt. Savage’s story is America’s story. While this brave soldier’s story is very dramatic because his injuries occurred on the battlefield, many of the patients I see every day struggle with the same, or similar, challenges. I have seen countless people trapped in the same web of pain, dependence on drugs, and hopelessness because they are not getting better. I have seen too many peoples’ lives crumble when they find themselves dependent on others, unable to get out and socialize with family and friends, angry and frustrated at doctors and others who don’t seem to believe them—and, worst of all, still suffering from pain.