Pain! So many types: the dull ache of a tooth gnawing at your gums; the grab of your guts suddenly convulsed by a rotten shrimp; the tattoo of electric needles as nerves react to an unknown stimulus; the snap of a bone breaking or skin and muscle being torn apart; the pain that you believe will kill you.
Pain seen in anyone makes you helpless, frustrated, angry. Pain in someone you love breaks a little piece of your heart as well. Which is why my heart cries for the Ukrainian mother who watched her son, Vlad Khukovsky, slowly die in such excruciating agony he tried to jump out a hospital window, hoping to land on his head and end the daily torture he was going through from a brain tumour. After being leap-frogged from hospital to hospital he was sent home to die, at 27. In unbearable pain.
Why? Because the Ukraine does not follow the World Health Organisations guidelines on pain and palliative care. In attempting to combat illegal drug use the country’s regulations for opiates are extraordinarily rigid, based on out-dated Soviet principles. Special, hard-to-get licences are granted to certain doctors allowed to prescribe narcotics, and the drug may then only be administered by a registered nurse. Human Rights Watch have recently advocated that the Ukrainian authorities adopt international guidelines. In an Associated Press report by Maria Danilova, the lead doctor at the Cherkasy Regional Oncology Centre in Ukraine, Viktor Paramonov said, These people are crossed out from life even before death.
What a truly appalling statement.
I live in a city with the dubious distinction of being known as a pill mill hub. Narcotics are sold through purported pain management clinics, prescriptions written by doctors who may never have seen the patient. Prescriptions continually renewed for imagined, or fabricated, needs that over the years lead to awful, real withdrawal pain that can only be eased by more drugs. The routine, the lies, and the pain continues often until an overdose is taken and death stops the cycle. I do understand that pain-management is abused.
I also know about pain. About how easy it is to slip into the abyss, waiting for the next morphine shot, the fentanyl patch, the vicodin due in four hours time, the alprazolam that eases that waiting time and maybe, once you are home, that glass of wine to help dull the whole event. All prescribed drugs. I have been there.
Harrington rods screwed to whatever piece of spine or pelvic bone that was not crumbling was a painful process. My surgeon had the skill and endurance to spend ten hours fusing the length of my spine with rods and screws. He had a grip like steel, and I think a touch of magic in his hands. I was so lucky. I survived the surgery. I did not become a paraplegic and I had a husband who monitored me every step of the way.
Each step, physical and metaphysical, was agony but they were steps to a future free of drugs, and I had people who cared and I happened to live in a country where those drugs were available. It was those people who helped haul me out of the narcotic fog that was so easy, was such a relief, to disappear into.
I have also seen pain. Instant stabbing pain that drops someone to the floor. It should not be the luck of life’s draw as to whether you have access to genuine pain relief. It should not depend on where you live, on whether you have insurance, on whether that gamble called life plays a cruel trick or produces a winning card.
I know my father’s agony from lung cancer was eased, and yes death probably hastened by the administration of narcotics. Something Vlad Zhukovsky did not have.
A panacea for pain should accessible to all. No one should be crossed out from life even before death!