Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared like a girl scout without the rules (but with the cookies). That’s always been one of my life’s mottos. After taking my last ever dose of opiate antagonist therapy last Friday, I was relieved when I only had some minor restless limbs when I turned in for bed that evening. I had been on the lowest dose possible, so I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen next. On Saturday night, I drove up the coast for a prawn fest and I lay awake all night. I only had a couple of ‘punches’, in that my arms went a little haywire and my legs were sore, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
I’ve always adhered to the adage that our hell is here on earth, and on Sunday night, that was very much the case. My legs were kicking uncontrollably, my arms were punching like I was in the ring with Danny Green (I would’ve been half a chance, too). Good old akathisia (restless legs) had consumed my muscles and seemingly, my bones. Even my chest was doing the pop and drop. At first I read about what I could do to alleviate the symptoms, but after a few hours, I was in a really bad place. In fact, I was actually quite stricken.
I tried laying on the floor. I tried massaging my legs. I tried star jumps and jogging on the spot, which worked – until I stopped moving. I tried stretching. I swore – a lot – and then I cried. I cried with fear and frustration. Basically, if I was a crab, I would have kicked my flesh out of my shell. Instead, I took a dose of buprenorphine, the very stuff I had just stopped taking, hoping it would calm my body and I’d stop kicking like a cocky prize fighter. Thankfully it did, but these decisions carry a cost. I felt like an abject failure. The last thing I was expecting (or wanting) to do was to ‘dose’ again, but it was all I could do after a few hours of kicking the shit out of the air and blankets and becoming increasingly distressed to the point where I actually thought it was going to kill me. I nearly called paramedics. I guess panic and great suffering will do that. Ah, the bitter taste of defeat.
After discussing some options with one of the pharmacists from the transplant team the next morning, I went to see my GP who was happy to prescribe me with a muscle relaxant, but we were also keen to try a more conservative approach of tonic water (for the quinine), epsom salts baths, magnesium therapy and then the muscle relaxants. A bath, coupled with Nina Simone soothed me greatly, and the quadruple therapy approach worked a treat. I slept. Not a single twitch. In fact, I woke up smiling.
But before I slept, I had to get the fuck over myself and my feelings of worthlessness and failure. My doctor (another wonderfully caring doctor – the kind of person who should be a doctor), laid my feelings of failure to rest after assuring me that I’d done incredibly well and that these things happen. They may be unexpected, but they happen.
I wish I could be far more noble and say that the suffering was worth it, but I cannot. Last night, I managed to drop my dose of muscle relaxant which I see as a win, so I’ll aim to decrease the dose again this evening.
It’s awfully liberating having a full bottle of diazepam in my possession, and not feel at all inclined to abuse it. I actually couldn’t think of anything worse – those feelings of failure simply aren’t worth it, but I’ll tell you what IS.
Today I walked into the chemist I’ve been going to for just over two years where I saw my favourite pharm-boy for the last time at the ‘junkie counter’. Let’s call him D. D was so bloody happy that I’d been able to stop taking the medication and didn’t need any more for the rest of the year. I was officially off the books. Another lovely pharmacist who had dosed me a couple of weeks ago also passed on her congrats. D and I shared a big hug and we had a chat about Christmas. Hugs are better than drugs, people! Here I was thinking they’d be glad to see the last of me, but I’ve promised that I’ll pop in and say hello when I’m passing by. Here’s hoping the hugs are requisite with each visit.
I must extend my gratitude for being treated with respect and not as a person of failure and inadequacy who didn’t deserve kindness because of my addiction issues. The pharmacy I go to treats everyone with the respect they deserve, and I’ll never forget that kindness, compassion and how they never brought my dignity into question.
This evening I’m feeling less of a failure and more like a warrior; a survivor. I managed to do 95% of my Christmas shopping in record time yesterday and right now I’m working on a elegiac poem for a fellow poet and friend who died last year. I miss him. I miss his humour, his spirit and his ability to turn a few words into masterpieces. The tug of death was too strong for Matthew, and the world is a poorer place without his presence.
So I guess this is where I wish you all a Merry Christmas even though Christmas can be an incredibly challenging time of year for so many. My hope is that whatever you choose to do – or not do – makes you happy and settles your soul. This cover of The Boss’s ‘I’m on fire’ by Matt Andersen always moves me. Big love to all.