Here is Rachel Gladstone’s humorous story from February 2017’s theme “Choices.”
I have never been a pill-popper. I’m more of a good glass of wine, hit on a joint kind of girl. You see I can’t understand the thrill of the pill because for me, there is no thrill. There’s only sleep. And it’s not a restful, dreamy kind of sleep; it’s more like the sleep of the dead from which I awake hung over, my hair standing on end like the Bride of Frankenstein with a long, crusty trail of drool, once liquid, caked to the side of my face.
Half a Valium renders me unconscious for a good 12 hours. And despite the fact that Benadryl should be innocuous, since it’s over-the-counter and everything, for me, this little pink pill is the legal doppelganger of the Quaalude which, by the way, I’ve never tried, because unlike the song, I wouldn’t be partying like it was 1999, I’d be partying like I was 99.
So there I was, living life as a pill-free woman who didn’t wake up every morning looking like she’d survived a sandstorm in the Sahara. But then it started: the pain. Torturous, constant, debilitating pain began screaming from my knees 24/7. And for the next 10 years, I limped along, icing my joints, overdosing on Aleve and turning a deaf ear to the double knee replacement surgery that was calling my name. Then one day, I caught a glimpse of myself walking towards a full-length mirror and my reflection literally stopped me in my tracks. I was so bowlegged and bent I looked like a gymnast caught in a perpetually bad dismount. I looked like a cross between my Jewish Grandmother and a Leprechaun or maybe Roy Rogers after a long trail ride. It was in that moment that I realized I had two choices: get the surgery or buy a green suit and get a gig selling Lucky Charms.
The thought of surgery was frightening. I knew I’d be in for a world of hurt and a world of little white pills and honestly, I couldn’t decide which I dreaded more. So I tried to look at the impending surgery, and the two weeks following that I’d spend stoned out of my mind in rehab, as a vacation with pain.
They’d be calling in the big guns. Your Percocets, your Vicodins, your OxyContins. The bad news was, I’d be comatose for at least six weeks. The good news was I wouldn’t feel a thing. Not the mind-numbing pain that would come with the territory of having my bones sawed in half and retrofitted with bionic parts. Nor the unbearable torture that would ensue at the incision sights and plow through my muscles like a monster truck at a demolition derby.
The meds would wrap my mind in a soft, velvety cocoon and everything would be all right. At least that’s what everybody told me. But I’m here to tell you: everybody was frigging wrong!
The cocoon that I got was anything but velvety. It was more like a sticky spider web that strangled every happy, peaceful feeling out of me. Not only could I still feel the pain, but my brain was about as useful as a bowl of partly-congealed Jell-O salad. And I found that things that had once been easy, like the ability to form complete, coherent sentences, were lost to me, as the opiates I was on held the launch codes of communication just out of reach, and I was helpless to do anything about it.
On a couple of occasions during my second week of recovery, I made the mistake of trying to change things up, by altering the “stay ahead of the pain” plan my doctor had dictated. But I found that if I delayed taking my meds, even for 20 minutes, the pain would become so bad, so quickly, that I wanted to strangle myself with the negative 450 thread count sheets that barely covered the plastic mattress on my bed.
More than anything, I wanted to be keeping a journal of this nightmare. After all, it’s what I do. I regularly chronicle the highlights of the low points that run through my life. I am what you might call a sharer; maybe even an over-sharer. Given half a chance, I’ll tell you that I’m wearing my underwear inside out because I haven’t had time to do laundry. And whether I tell all in print or in real life to some random woman in the ladies room, I feel the need to behave like the human equivalent of Mt. Vesuvius.
So here I was in the midst of recovering from double knee replacement surgery, full-to-bursting with the funny takes on what most people would probably view as the worst moments of their life. And more than anything, I wanted to jot down every horrifying second of it to file away for future laughs. There was the horrible food that looked like it came straight out of a 1980’s prison movie. And the frighteningly bright, Demerol-induced, 3D, Technicolor dreams that transformed my eyelids into an Imax movie screen night after night. One night I dreamt I was on tour with the Rolling Stones which was great until their tour bus was stolen from my driveway, and I had to run through a strange city barefoot in the dead of night trying to recover it. This was the night I woke up in a cold sweat at 3:00 am and afraid to go back to sleep, began to watch QVC for the first time in my life. It only took five minutes before I was hooked and I called the number on my screen and ordered a complete set of bake ware for just four easy payments of 29.99. And then, after refusing the operator’s kind invitation to say hello to the on-air host, due to the fact that I was cacked out of my mind on Demerol, I quickly hung up the phone.
Another night terror came in the form of a passive-aggressive nurse who looked like a female version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy come to life dressed in a skin tight, white pantsuit. Nothing jiggled on this woman; she was like a solid block of moving flesh. Her cloyingly-sweet perfume, which I suspect she wore in an attempt to mask her ripe body odor, would hit me the second she pushed open the door. This made me want to lose my cookies. But because she was there to dispense my pain meds I learned how to ignore my nausea, hold my breath and swallow at the same time, a talent that’s sure to come in handy the next time I have a third date.
The thing I hated most about the pills was that they made me barf on a bi-hourly basis which was no picnic. The nausea got worse as the day wore on and the only thing that would ease it was smoking pot. So every night, I’d persuade a different friend to come for a visit and push me out to the parking lot in my wheel chair where I’d smoke one of the joints I’d smuggled in. Then they’d wheel me back to my room, calm, happy and trailing a sweet smelling perfume of my very own.
There was definitely humor in all of this. But because the part of my brain that was totally getting the joke couldn’t connect to the part of my brain that remembered how to tell it, I felt like a fly on the wall of my own life, viewing everything through the specs of a beady-eyed insect who likes to eat dog shit.
I felt like a toothless woman trying to eat corn on the cob. And oh, how I longed to get all up inside the sensation of that hot, buttery corn bursting between my teeth. I found myself starting to panic: Would I ever be able to write again? Were these drugs going to have the last laugh; and was the joke on me?
It took eight weeks living life as a junkie with a legal prescription before I was able to ease off the pills a bit and begin to alter my med schedule from popping a pill every four hours to every five; then six, then seven, then eight. Some days the pain was so intolerable that I’d volley back and forth through these medication time zones, yet always with an eye towards quitting the stuff that was making it impossible for me to be me. But even though I was taking fewer pills I found that the fuzz factor was just as great as ever, and I realized the only way to stop the madness was to stop the pill-to-mouth connection all together. I knew there would be pain, but I knew I had no choice.
Going cold turkey wasn’t half as bad as I’d imagined. Aleve and I had a reunion of epic proportions and the stuff that had been so funny in my head, but couldn’t translate to the page, returned with a vengeance. I felt like Tom Hanks in that movie where he’s shipwrecked and finally, against all odds, makes it back to civilization. I had been one deflated volley ball away from madness and yet, I’d found my way home.
It’s been several months since I was sliced and diced and put back together, and everything in my world feels right again. The only thing I’m overindulging in these days is my penchant for oversharing, which I’m sure is entertaining the hell out of strangers in the ladies room. Those little white pills might have held the jokester in me hostage for a while, but I finally broke free. And I’m happy to report that I’m the one who’s having the last laugh.