Take Opioids. No, Don’t. Yes, Do.

Last week, I had my tonsils taken out. As an adult, this is a pretty painful surgery, and ice cream is not a prescription for recovery. But Percocet is. And given all that we’ve heard about the opioid crisis, I was pretty anxious about becoming an addict. I spoke to all of my friends and family beforehand and told them to hold an intervention if they needed to. I wasn’t kidding.

When I checked in for my surgery on early Monday morning, my doctor said he would prescribe Percocet but warned me about its addictiveness. He said to watch my intake and be careful. My parents were there and we all heard this.

When I woke up from surgery, I was in extreme pain. To swallow just my own saliva, my whole body would tense up and I had to grab the bed rail because I was in so much agony. Seeing this, the nurse asked if I wanted a Percocet. I looked at her incredulously and nodded my head vigorously. After about 90 minutes, I was released to go home. I was surprised that I was still in so much pain. I thought Percocet would give me a painless, euphoric feeling that would leave me wanting more. Instead, I could still feel every agonizing swallow.

My parents took round-the-clock care of me, waking me every 4 hours to take a Percocet. By the morning of the 3rd day after surgery, I was finally starting to feel better. I had a check-in appointment with my doctor that afternoon. When he entered the examination room, someone was with him and he off-handedly said that the gentleman was shadowing him for the day. When the examination was done, I said that I was feeling well enough to cut back on the Percocet and was going to start halving the dose.

His eyes opened wide. “You’re taking Percocet? I thought we talked about this. You shouldn’t be taking it unless you need to. Who told you to take it?”

I stared back at him surprised. I looked at my mom, confused.

“Uhhhhh…I thought you said…. I don’t remember….”

He asked, “Did the post-op nurse tell you to take it?”

“I guess….”

He went on, “Okay, we talked about the opioid crisis. You have to be really, really careful. Try to take ibuprofen rather than Percocet. You really shouldn’t be taking Percocet.”

And then – without skipping a beat – he said, “So do you need more Percocet? I can write you a prescription.”

I was utterly confused. I adamantly refused any additional Percocet. I left his office puzzled, and wondered why he gave me the short lecture. I wondered if he was trying to CYA with the person who was shadowing him. Otherwise, it made no sense to me. But it was an eye-opening look into the world of opioids and primary medicine. It’s no wonder why we can’t seem to make a dent in the opioid crisis. Doctors themselves haven’t figured out how to deal with it.

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