Tag Archive: pain

Cymbalta sucks. People should sue its makers.

Look, yes, Cymbalta probably saved my life. But it also sucks. So, I’m not surprised people are suing Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug.

I can still remember talking to a nurse over the phone at the Mayo Clinic’s pain rehab program when she mentioned Cymbalta. It was the same pain program my insurance company would eventually deny, prompting the Mayo Clinic to ask for $35,000 up-front, and prompting me to laugh in their faces and instead buy a $7 Yoga DVD at Best Buy and hope for the best.

Anyway, yeah, the nurse. She was all, “Oh! Cymbalta is a WONDERFUL drug! So many people love it! And it works so well! That’s a great drug to go on when you go off opioids!”

But all I could think was, “Obviously you have never been on Cymbalta or opioids or had chronic pain, because Cymbalta sucks.”

I always tell people I was tricked into starting the drug.

My doctor, whom I really do love, put me on it about a year and a half ago. He brought it up at my first appointment with him — the same appointment I also decided to confess that I was having suicidal thoughts daily. He told me he was putting me on Cymbalta because it had been shown to help with pain. I’d later find out that was only half the reason.

When I went to a follow-up appointment, the doctor asked if  Cymbalta had helped with my pain at all. And because my pain is stronger than the U.S. military, it hadn’t. But, then came the reveal.

“Well, how’s your mood?” he asked, slowly.

“Actually, better,” I replied, realizing that had been his secret plan all along.

But you know what? I can sincerely tell you that I didn’t want to kill myself anymore. I mean, I still thought about it, but the drug had sort of diluted the thoughts, and made them less of a legitimate option and more of a fleeting idea I had in passing.

And I totally get why my doctor did what he did. Because when someone is suicidal, it just makes sense that staying alive is the one and only goal. So, in the beginning I was fine with whatever worked — and it just so happened that Cymbalta is what worked for me.

Until it didn’t.

Cymbalta was able to keep the suicidal thoughts away, but it also kept a lot of other thoughts away too. Like my creative thoughts, my writing thoughts and, honestly, my sex thoughts. The drug straight up slaughtered my sex drive.

It also made me so tired. Like, sleep-for-16-hours-a-day tired. Yes, it had help from all the other drugs I’m on, but I can clearly tell you that the fatigue is worse than it was before I started taking Cymbalta.

So, a couple months ago I tried to go off it. I chose the only method I knew and cut it out cold turkey. Within just two days, my writing voice came back like the great flood. And I was getting turned on by my boyfriend again. I even got to see and understand 8 a.m. again for the first time in like a year.

All was well with the world. Except when suddenly it wasn’t. Because Oh. My. God. The withdrawal symptoms from Cymbalta were hell.

Less than a week after my last pill, I was getting so dizzy that I seriously thought I had a new disease. Then, there was this thing called the brain zaps, that I didn’t understand until they happened to me. In short, it literally felt like my brain was being, well, zapped by electricity.

There was also nausea and vertigo and just an overall feeling of falling off a skyscraper.

I can honestly tell you that going off Cymbalta was worse than going off any opioid I’ve ever been on. At least with opioids it only takes like 18 hours to get out of your system, and when it’s over, it’s over. Cymbalta lingered. It took it’s time with me. It gradually poured on the withdrawal symptoms in a tortuous piling on.

So, a week after I went off it, I went back on it.

Apparently though, I’m not the only one staring down at a lifetime of daily Cymbalta doses. According to the Internet, (always a reliable source) there’s a possible class action lawsuit being brought against Eli Lilly.

“Studies show that between 50% and 78% of Cymbalta users experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the drug. Yet the drug label misleadingly states that Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms occur in only 1% to 2% of cases,” claims attorney Steven D. Gacovino.

You can read more about it here.

Now, I literally have no idea how legit this whole thing is. Can you really fill out a form on a random website and be part of  a class action lawsuit? I have no idea. But I can tell you that I totally submitted the form.

If nothing else, doctors should be telling their patients about this. They should have a conversation that goes something along the lines of, “Hey, this drug might quell your suicidal thoughts, but you’re never going to be able to go off of it. I mean, you will, but it will be hell. You’ll probably get vertigo and brain zaps and you may not be able to stand up without falling over. Also, there’s no telling how long those withdrawal symptoms are going to last.”

If nothing else, patients deserve to know the truth. I deserved to know the truth.

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Looking for God on the operating table

There I was, stomach down on the operating table, in only a hospital gown and my underwear, and I found myself doing the one thing I hadn’t sincerely done in months.

I was praying.

With my whole heart, my whole being, and my whole soul, I was saying the most earnest prayer I could remember saying in a long, long time.

“Dear God. Please, please, PLEASE be with me right now. Please, whatever happens, please do not let them hit a nerve. Please God. I could not handle it if that happened. Please God. You are the only one I can ask for help right now. I need you. I need this. Please help me.”

It was my second trip to the Mayo Clinic and I was in the midst of what was supposed to be a 10-minute epidural that had passed the hour mark. The original doctor had been unable to get the needle through my spine in my middle back, and another doctor had to be called in to consult.

Eventually, they decided to go through my lower back, but to get the medication in the right place, they had to thread a catheter tube up my spine — no easy task. They kept threading it to the left when it needed to go right, and so they had to keep pulling it back down my spine and out of my body and redoing it.

In case you’re wondering, it really hurts when they do that, and you can totally feel it.

Before the procedure, everyone I talked to, from the nurse who checked my blood pressure to the actual doctor slated to give me the epidural, had assured me seven ways from Sunday that this was going to be a quick and easy procedure.

They told me there was no reason to give me any of the sedative I had been given when I had undergone a similar procedure awhile back, because this one was just going to be so dog gone easy.

I should have known then that it wouldn’t be. But I nervously took them at their word.

Eventually though, as I heard the doctor tell his resident, “I’ve just never seen anything like this before,” I started to worry that this whole thing was going to be full of worst-case scenarios. One of which was that they could hit one of my nerves during the procedure, which could send a shooting pain down my leg, that, from what I could gather, would hurt like hell.

So, as more and more things went wrong, I lost more and more faith in the doctors poking me in the spine. And eventually, I turned to the only one you can turn to when there’s nobody else left to ask for help — God.

“I’m so sorry that we haven’t talked much in the last few months. I am so sorry that I haven’t been going to church. I swear, I am,” I prayed silently. “I just really need your help right now. Because I am going to freak the eff out if they hit my nerve. I’m telling you, I could not take that.”

Eventually, about 90 minutes after I first lay down on the table, they were done. The doctors had managed to get the medication into the right spot without hitting any of my nerves.

I could barely walk out of the room to where my clothes were, and it felt like someone had just stuck a bunch of needles into various parts of my back — mostly because they had.

All I could think about was that prayer though. I hadn’t prayed like that in such a long time.

So many people write how having a chronic illness strengthens their faith, how it brings them closer to God than they’ve ever been. But I have no idea how that happens. For me, it’s made me a little bit more of an atheist every day.

When I first got sick, before I was on any medications that helped at all, before I had any idea what might be happening to me, I would lay in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because of the pain, and I would literally cry out to God.

And in those moments, when the pain only got worse, He seemed so silent.

Then, when it became clear that I would have to resign my role as the youth leader at the church I was attending, I started to question whether this whole thing was somehow God’s way of telling me I wasn’t doing a good job leading the youth.

I know, I know, that’s probably not true. But when something like that happens to you, it’s impossible not to have those thoughts.

From there, I started to wonder how any God could ever let one of his children suffer the way I have.

And then, one night a few months ago, I was up all night in such severe pain that the next day the doctor gave me a shot of Dilaudid. Unfortunately, instead of relieving my pain, it promptly made me start vomiting uncontrollably. I literally threw up all night long, with barely enough time to catch my breath between each time.

It was the worst 48 hours of my entire life. And it was then that the questions of where God could possibly be during all of this really started to take root.

I really do believe that life with obscene chronic pain is the worst life imaginable, and I don’t understand how it could possibly lead anyone to have a closer relationship with God. For me, it has only made Him more and more distant.

Maybe I am angry or just confused. And maybe one day everything will become clear. But for now, I am in too much pain to make sense of the fact that a supposedly loving creator would let one of his creations endure such a thing.

And yet, there I was, on the operating table, praying with such a sincere heart that I barely recognized myself.

So I guess when it comes right down to it, I still want really want to believe. I need to.

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Still Sick, Even After the Mayo Clinic

Lately, when I think about killing myself, I try to remember Brazil.

I recently went on a week-long trip to the beautiful sea-side country, and although it was technically for work, I was able to experience plenty of amazing moments — moments I try to remember when I think about ending my life.

I try to remind myself that it was such an unexpected trip that came up out of the blue, and it was so incredible and magnificent, and if I had killed myself a few months ago like I wanted to, back when the pain was particularly bad, then I would have missed out on the whole thing. I would have never made it to Brazil.

From there, I try to remember that the rest of my life is still filled with so many incredible possibilities and ending it now would be a mistake.

These days, though, I’ve had to remind myself about Brazil more often than I’d like.

I just got back from a much anticipated visit to the (in)famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

It’s supposed to be THE place to go when you have things like excruciating random rib pain that you wake up with one day for no apparent reason. It’s supposed to be the hospital that puts all other hospitals to shame. The one that can diagnose the undiagnosable and cure the incurable. The very mecca of the chronically sick.

Except for me. Aside from the pretty buildings and the fancy tour guide facts on the shuttle bus ride between the hotel and the clinic, it ended up being pretty much just like any other doctor’s visit.

Which is exactly what I was afraid of.

I mean, sure, the doctor was nice enough. A strong Italian woman, she had the kind of fierce personality I often wish I could muster. With her relatively thick accent, she went over my medical history with a strikingly straightforward approach, saying things like, “Oh yes, you are on the Amitriptyline. It’s makes you fat.”

Oddly, that comment was among her more comforting words. I mean, at least she didn’t think it was because I was just a lazy slob, like everyone else did.

But, as we started to talk about the nitty gritty, I quickly realized that she wasn’t going to dig very deep into my pain. And in fact, she was just going to do what all the other doctors before her had done.

She concluded that she thought the pain was probably intercostal neuralgia, even though I’ve already had a test to show that it’s probably not intercostal neuralgia.

Then, she said the same thing all the doctors say, “We don’t know what caused it. We’ll probably never know what caused it. And we don’t know exactly how to cure it, but if we throw a bunch of different treatments at it, maybe something will work.”

After that, she sent me off for two days of peripheral nerve tests that had almost nothing to do with my pain — one of which literally electrocuted me for three minutes straight. Another burned the top of my left foot to test my pain tolerance. All of them came back normal.

In the end, her best piece of medical advice seemed to be to take off work and attend a three-week, outpatient pain clinic — which just made me feel like she had run out of ideas and was shipping me off to the place people go when they’ll never be cured. Also, who the heck can just take three weeks off work?

On Thursday evening, after all the tests and all the appointments were done, I reflected on the experience in the hotel hot tub, and I tried desperately to wrap my head around what was happening.

I had tried to mentally prepare for this outcome, to remind myself that nothing might come from this visit. But I also had still allowed myself to hope for more. And honestly, with so many people out there on social media rooting for me and writing messages on my Facebook wall about how they were praying I would be cured at Mayo, I somehow also felt like I was letting the whole world down.

For a half a second, I honestly thought about pretending that I had actually been cured at Mayo.

I could come back and tell everyone the news they so desperately wanted to hear. I could let my boss believe my health was no longer affecting my work, and I could date guys without worrying about whether or not they were secretly turned off by my pile of orange prescription bottles.

But then I remembered how sick I really am, and I realized that my plan wouldn’t work. I mean, how many days could I last at work without having to tell my boss I needed to sign off early and lay down? I can only fake so many episodes of the flu.

Which really only leaves me one option — I somehow have to deal with the fact that I’m just going to continue to be sick, at least for now.

But that’s where the suicidal thoughts start to creep back in. Because, if I’m being honest, looking at a life filled with unendurable pain seems too overwhelming to handle. And coming to grips with the fact that even THE Mayo Clinic couldn’t help me, makes me want to just give up on doctors and prescriptions and life in general.

But I try to keep reminding myself about Brazil. And about the palm trees, and the sound of the ocean waves, and the way the people I met there have left such a strong impression on my heart.

And I keep going. At least for now.

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