I’ve recently become kind of obsessed with the fact John F. Kennedy had health issues. Like major health issues. Like Addison’s disease, ulcers, colitis, and back pain issues, among others.
It’s one of the few things most people don’t seem to know about JFK. He was sick. Really sick. And he was often dealing with his health while running the country.
The Atlantic detailed some of Kennedy’s health issues in “The Medical Ordeals of JFK” back in 2013. They talked about how while JFK was in the White House he routinely saw an allergist, an endocrinologist, a gastroenterologist, an orthopedist and an urologist. JFK also regularly took amphetamines and had painkillers injected into his back.
In other words, he went through the same things a lot of us with chronic pain go through. Except, you know, he managed to run the Free World between steroid injections.
There’s a part of me that wishes he hadn’t hid his aliments. The article details how his campaign flat-out denied he had Addison’s disease. The day after his election, in response to a reporter’s question, JFK “declared himself in ‘excellent’ shape and dismissed the rumors of Addison’s disease as false.”
Personally, I had no idea that JFK struggled with so many health issues until I stumbled upon the information while researching chronic pain. And from what I can tell, most people in America don’t realize just how sick he was either.
I can’t help but wonder what he may have been able to do for the stigma associated with chronic illness if he had ever admitted to his aliments publicly though. Imagine if the stereotype of someone with chronic illness was JFK. Sure, it’s a lot to live up to, but it’s better than what we face now, which is usually something along the lines of, “a lazy, druggie who probably brought it on themselves.”
And maybe he could have even helped people understand that cancer isn’t the only bad thing that can happen to you. And that sometimes, you don’t get better and you don’t die — you just stay sick.
But, there’s probably a good chance he would have never been elected if the American public knew he was seeing Max Jacobson, an émigré doctor from Germany who had made a reputation treating celebrities with “pep pills” (amphetamines).
The thing that really strikes me though is just how much JFK was able to accomplish despite his health. Most days, I’m in too much pain to drive to the grocery store, much less run for president.
From what I’ve read, it seems as though JKF was totally cool with popping as many pills as he needed to in order to keep going. As The Atlantic details, “[He didn’t] believe that the many medications he took would reduce his ability to work effectively; on the contrary, he saw them as ensuring his competence to deal with the demands of the office.”
In other words, he was all for medication if it meant he would be able to endure a press conference.
And I’m also guessing he was the type of sick person who had access to any and all medications that he thought would help him. Something most of us can only dream of.
There was definitely a point in my life when I would have loved taking hundreds of Norco each month so that I could have kept pace with my previous lifestyle. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have a liver anymore, but at least I’d still have my own apartment.
Even on my current doses, my main reason for taking drugs is so that I can do as much as possible. Sometimes that means a work trip to Arizona, and other times it means having the strength to sit up on the couch and type out a column.
So I can completely understand why JFK felt like he did about the pills. But I don’t think most people would.
Heck, the number one comment I get from anyone who finds out how many drugs I take on the daily is, “You need to get off all those medications.” I usually explain that if I “got off all those medications” then I also wouldn’t be able to get off the couch.
I also assume that when JFK said he was in pain, at least one of the like 23 specialists he was seeing believed him and responded accordingly. Again, something most of us can only dream of.
He also probably had no issues paying for his medications or getting to doctors’ appointments. And I’m sure he was able to see the very best doctors in the country whenever he wanted.
Even knowing that he had all sorts of advantages as a sick person though, there’s still a huge part of me that feels really inadequate thinking about how much JFK got done. I mean, I have literally had to scale back every aspect of my life since getting sick. I quit my side job as a youth leader, which I loved with all my heart. I moved in with my mom. I started working from home. And I even stopped going to the mall as much as I used to.
For me, a big part of being sick has been losing so many of the things I love, and then figuring out how to cope with those losses.
But then, there’s another part of me that thinks of JFK and is kind of inspired. Maybe there is hope for me yet. Maybe I can still live in Brazil one day, or become a best-selling author, or heck, run for office just like JFK did.
I just need to find that German doctor and get some of those “pep pills.”
People are always asking me why I drive two hours, one-way for a doctor. I mean, it’s not like I live in the middle of South Dakota (anymore) — there are plenty of other doctors right here in Illinois, some of whom are even in my hometown.
The only way I can explain it is to tell you that I drive two hours, one-way to see the most amazing doctor I’ve ever had because over the last two years I have seen so many of the worst doctors I’ve ever had.
And, if I had been a patient of one of those doctors, I probably would have ended up in the hospital instead of Black Friday shopping at the mall with my little sister.
It all started because I was up for a refill on my super strong pain pills, which the federal government has decided are so potent that I am required to get a written prescription for it every single month lest I become Pablo Escobar.
Usually this just means that my doctor mails me the prescription, because we both agree that a four-hour round trip for a piece of paper in 2014 is ridiculous.
But this month, my doctor decided to mail the prescription directly to the pharmacy instead. Something about how if a carrier goes postal, or someone robs the mailman, then I won’t have any issues because they can just re-send it to the pharmacy — something they couldn’t do if they sent it directly to me.
And since my doctor is basically my “dealer” and therefore holds all the power in our relationship, I said, “Fine. Whatever.”
Except, like a week went by, and the pharmacy kept telling me they never got the prescription in the mail. I assumed it was because of the Thanksgiving holiday messing up the mail schedule, but by Friday I was completely out of all my pain drugs and was starting to go into withdrawal.
In other words, I was literally thinking about killing myself by downing a bottle of sleeping pills. Seriously, that’s how quickly things can devolve when you suffer from non-stop chronic pain.
And the pharmacist was all, “Yeah, no, they can’t call in a morphine prescription. Sorry.”
In the olden days (a couple months ago) my doctor could have just called in a hydrocodone prescription to hold me over. But alas, the federal government has deemed that drug too hardcore as well, and now a written prescription is required for it too.
And so, as I was trying to decide whether I would attempt to live off unhealthy amounts of Advil for the next few days or just kill myself, I thought maybe I should give my doctor a call and just check to make sure there’s really nothing he could do.
In the back of my mind, I kept trying to remind myself that my amazing doctor had always come through for me before, and that I had no reason to doubt him now.
I mean, he’s so amazing, that if I ever run out of pain pills early, instead of pointing me toward a drug rehab center, he actually asks why I came up short and then tries to figure out a solution so it doesn’t happen again next month.
And, during appointments, instead of staring blankly at a screen typing everything I say without listening to a single word, he actually listens to me and all my stupid questions, and even engages in a two-way conversation. There’s usually even eye contact! Crazy, right?
He’s also the kind of doctor who, when I showed up at his office after three endless days of insane breakthrough pain, instead of handing me some Aleve and a pain specialist referral to get something stronger, he actually gave me a pain medication shot right there on the exam table.
As it turns out, he’s also the kind of doctor who’s able to order a 3-day emergency prescription of morphine over the phone, so that I can make it through the next few days without dying.
The relief that flooded my heart and soul when I found out that I was wasn’t going to have go through hell, agony, withdrawal and a pain spike waiting for the postman is hard to explain.
I mean, I didn’t even know emergency prescriptions were a thing that could be done. Luckily, because I have an amazing doctor though, I didn’t need to — he was already on it.
I still don’t actually have the full prescription because it turns out that my local, small town pharmacy requires doctors to send prescriptions to a P.O. Box instead of their main address. However, my doctor’s nurse knew nothing about this, so now the prescription is probably on its way back to Wisconsin with “Return to Sender” stamped on it in big red letters.
But, the nurse told me today that they’ve sent another prescription, this time to the right address, and in the meantime, they’ve also sent in another 3-day emergency prescription to hold me over.
I can tell you from all of my experiences from horrific doctors, that most of them would have just shrugged their shoulders in that situation, and silently judged me for being a druggie, and told me to wait for the mailman like a good little patient — withdrawal and pain spikes be damned. Or, they would have insisted that I get in the car and make the 2-hour drive to Wisconisn right then and there to pick it up myself, despite the fact that without pain meds a drive like that would have left me for dead for like a week.
So, when people ask me why I drive four hours, round-trip to see doctor, I just nod my head, smile and say, “Well, he’s the best there is,” and leave it at that.
Because I know in my heart that he cares about me, and that’s more important than proximity any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
I am pro Zohydro, a new potent, hydrocodone-based, extended-release painkiller, because I am in so much pain, so much of the time.
I am pro Zohydro because there are so many days when I wake up and I’m literally in too much pain to open up a laptop and read my work emails. And I’m in too much pain to talk on the phone, watch TV, or take a shower.
Do you know what that’s like? To avoid taking a shower because you are in too much pain to stand up long enough to wash your hair? I do.
I am pro Zohydro because the pain on my right side shoots through me like a constant stream of agony and defeat. Because it feels like someone reached past my skin, and my blood vessels, and grabbed the last two bones in my right ribs and snapped them in half.
And somehow, at the same time, it feels like someone just dropped a cinder block on my chest and then whacked me with a baseball bat to make sure it hurt.
I am pro Zohydro because its sister drug Norco has helped me so much. It has given me moments of my life back. It has taken my pain away just enough for me to pretend that I might even be well.
It has allowed me to go to a Cubs games with my boyfriend, to go shopping with my sister and my mom, and to go to candy shows with my boss. It has allowed me to keep my job, take showers and, on particularly bad days, walk from the couch to the kitchen. It even kept me alive during my last mission trip as a youth leader. I wouldn’t trade that trip for my life.
I am pro Zohydro because my chronic pain has been like a vicious black alien that slithered out of the night sky and attached itself to my ribs, only to suck the life out of my body, a little more each day.
It has left me for dead, on the door steps of suicide, ready to end it all, and the only thing that has saved my life has been the pain pills from the merciful doctors who try to understand how horrible my chronic pain really is.
I am pro Zohydro because there’s a chance it could help me. There’s a chance it could give me a slice of my life back. And even if it can’t give me a slice of my life back, maybe it can give someone else a slice of their life back.
I am pro Zohydro because chronic pain really is that bad. Because I don’t just wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by semi-truck once in a while, the way people in the land of the well do when they have the flu, maybe once or twice year. For me, it’s not once in a while. It’s every day.
I can’t just call in sick to life whenever I feel like someone just stabbed me 27 times with a butcher knife. So, instead, every single day I have to pull myself out of the sheets, and lift off the covers, which tend to feel like they weigh 49 pounds, and I have to drag myself out of bed and face the world and try to function.
I have to live my life every single day, despite the fact that I’m literally in enough pain that I want to go to the emergency room all the time. But I know there is sometimes relief available. And that relief is opioid drugs. And if Zohydro is that drug for me or anyone else, I want them to have access to it.
I am pro Zohydro because 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and they deserve hope. They deserve advances in medicine. They deserve cutting-edge treatments, advocates and support. And they deserve new drugs just like anyone else suffering from any other medical condition.
I am pro Zohydro because it will help people. Yes, I worry about those who may become addicted to it. And yes, I even worry that I will be among them. But more than that, I worry that one day, in the dark of night, I will no longer be able to bear the insane amount of pain in my ribs, grab a knife and slit my wrists, and finally find the relief I so desperately search for.
I am pro Zohydro because I would rather find that relief from a prescription.