Last night went to a 50th birthday party for my friend P. This morning her husband (also called P) phoned to thank me for helping him in the kitchen. I didn’t do much: gave him instructions for browning his baked brie (under the broiler), taught him how to use his own convection oven, and oversaw the complex, gourmet task of heating the Costco frozen mini hotdogs wrapped in puff pastry.
Over the phone this morning, P said her husband was suffering from an infection in one of his molars. His jaw was killing him.
“Hasn’t the doctor given him anything for the pain?” I asked. “Codeine?” They’ve known I’m an addict since the summer day in 2010 that I told them at the Tate Modern in London, looking at Niki de Saint Phalle’s “shooting” paintings.
“Yes: I picked up a Z-Pac for him this morning for the infection,” she said. I sat there waiting for her to announce Which Drug he’d been given.
“And he also has Vicodin.”
“But they didn’t want him to take it during the party last night.”
Of course. Because he’d have been drinking. Also, it might make him sleepy. Vicodin makes normal people sleepy, and sometimes nauseated. It makes addicts like me wake up and want to clean the entire fucking house from attic to basement, all the while sorting out three or four book chapters in our minds. “My house was never so clean as when I was using,” my friend L murmured to me the other day during a meeting when someone mentioned Vicodin.
Once upon a time, if a friend mentioned she had Vicodin in the house, I might have felt an immediate, overwhelming drive to invent a pretext for coming over right away, eagle eyes scouting around for the brown plastic bottle with the child-proof cap. They say you’re either moving toward a drink/drug or away from one, and today I didn’t have that compulsion—I had the memory of it, but not the actual feeling—so today I think I’m sober.
The reality is, drugs are everywhere, anyway. In order not to descend into insanity, I have to keep steering into some kind of solution.
“Has he taken any?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “but it’s not helping.”
“When did he take it?” I asked.
She handed the phone to her husband. He said he’d taken one 7.5mg pill two-and-a-half hours before.
“G, why isn’t it helping?” he asked.
Because the fucking drugs never take away all the pain, I thought. They just take away part of it and make you not-care about the rest.
“Because when you have severe acute pain, sometimes you need a bit extra to get on top of it,” I said. That’s what they taught me at the pain clinic: when a flare comes along, try to anticipate it and take a bit extra. I suggested he take one more, and then dose every 4-6 hours as it said on the bottle.
“Is that going to be OK?” he said.
“You don’t have a problem taking drugs,” I said, “so you’re not going to have any trouble. And that much Tylenol isn’t going to hurt you. Just don’t take more than that. And why don’t you try putting some ice on your face?”
I call him a couple hours later and the one extra has helped him get on top of the pain. “It’s just like you said,” he tells me. “It’s not all gone, but it’s not killing me anymore.”
Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin? Hell no.
A couple days ago I get an email from a reader, a guy about my age. Dave from California. He’s sitting out in San Diego or somewhere waiting for spinal surgery, he’s got 16 years clean and sober, the pain is frigging driving him nuts. He NEEDS to make it go away. He thanks me for my post about Chewing Vicodin.
This post gets tons of hits. There are many, many of you out there, pills in your hot little hands, wanting to know “how to maximize the effects of Vicodin.”
“I have found myself wanting to chew the medicine,” Dave writes.
Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin?—I ask myself again. Hell no: because P isn’t an addict. P can have one or two glasses of wine. He can choose which it’s going to be: one—or two.
“Sixteen years clean,” Dave writes, “and as soon as the pain gets too big I start to think I know a better way to take pills. Thank you. Keep doing what you do. It is a service for which I am grateful.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me to keep doing what I do with this blog, I’d have a nice packet of dough. It’s very, very kind of people to say this. I’m grateful for you guys who read me. For the many people like Dave who check in and find help and who are generous enough to let me know about it.
Dave is having his surgery today. He’s going to be in a lot of pain. I’m holding him in the light. That’s how Quakers talk about praying for someone: “holding you in the light.” (I’ve been walking around these days, holding a bunch of people in the light. It’s quite a comforting thing to do, praying for someone else’s
ass life besides my own.)
“Pain sucks, man, I know,” I write to Dave, “but one addict praying for another is a powerful thing.”
If you have a moment, maybe you’d be willing to drop a note in the God-box for Dave.
Why not also pray for P?—Actually, I pray for P, too, he and his wife are quite often on my gratitude lists, but I know P will be all right. It’s Dave I’m worried about. He’s dealing with two monsters.