It was only after he retired that Bob Hunter had time to acknowledge his painful back. Rather than a retirement he and his wife, Joyce, had planned, he spent nine years virtually asleep.
It all started in 1970 when I had a slipped disc. Twenty years later I was in a road traffic accident and had to have spinal fusion surgery. Over the following two decades, I simply worked through the pain.
I was taking dihydrocodeine and was self-employed in the retail industry. I worked 70 – 80 hours a week, seven days a week. I used a crutch to help me get around. I was too busy to concentrate on the pain. I had to earn a living and that was the priority.
I finally retired in 2011 after I’d had a heart attack and triple by-pass. Within six months my wife told me I was getting addicted to the painkillers. I was still taking dihydrocodeine but was also taking paracetamol and wearing Fentanyl patches. In fact, during retirement I’ve taken Naproxen, Oxycodone, Zomorph, Gabapentin and several others I can’t even remember now. To keep Joyce happy, I attended a pain management clinic. I slept through it!
Deep down, even I knew I was addicted, but I denied it to myself and everyone around me. I had wanted to enjoy retirement and so did Joyce.
We’d earned it after working so hard for so long. But I’d become bad-tempered, I’d be shaking and edgy if I didn’t take the medication, and I slept – a lot! I put all the sleeping down to having worked so hard. I needed the rest.
I would pop to my in-laws and fall asleep. We’d go out with friends and Joyce would be mortified that I would just fall asleep in the pub or restaurant. It must have been really hard on her at that time. I know she was embarrassed by me.
Not only that, I could hardly stay awake while driving. It was dangerous and my wife knew it.
Even my own granddaughter didn’t like the person I’d become.
Joyce kept urging me to ditch the painkillers and felt we couldn’t continue the way we were. A real crunch time came while we were supposed to be enjoying a six-week extended break in Cyprus. It lasted just 10 days before we had to fly home.
Joyce managed four suitcases and me. I looked like I was drunk. She was propping me up, got me on the airport bus and then carried the cases on the bus too. I look back on that and feel awful. But it was the wake-up I needed to make changes.
It’s taken 2½ years, with a lot of help and support from our GP, to be back in control of the medication instead of it controlling me. Before I would take the meds like clockwork, but now I take them when I need them.
I don’t think I’ll ever be completely without pain medication. It’s now about getting the balance right.
I take them when I need them, and they don’t affect our quality of life anymore.
I’m back gardening, walking, enjoying time with our children and grandchildren and socialising – all without falling asleep! The pain’s still there of course, but I can manage it myself. I don’t do too much and I have medication available for use in short bursts to take the edge off.
It’s better to live with manageable pain than in a fog of painkiller addiction and lethargy. I’m not grumpy or snappy and I don’t get shaky or edgy.
Finally, we can really begin to enjoy our retirement! I would say to anyone looking to reduce their pain medication – do it with help. You need support from your family and GP to make sure you come off your medication safely. And I promise it’s worth it!