I am physically and emotionally exhausted as I write these words on a notepad, sitting on a hospital bed. Below me, a black rubber mattress amplifies the almost unbearable heat of this steamy July evening, as sweat pours off my face onto my glasses, and I must pause every minute or two to wipe the warm broth from an ancient pair of bifocals held together with scotch tape. I hope to complete my thoughts before the tape on my glasses unravels. It will be close.
As alcoholics and heroin, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine addicts pace the hallway just ten feet from where I’m sitting, the drape around my bed is drawn and I am acutely aware of any shadows or sounds that could indicate the presence of a nurse or aide nearby. If my notebook is discovered, I could face disciplinary action, or even tossed out of the program.
Under normal circumstances, quitting this program and going home would be my first choice right about now, but these are not normal circumstances. If I cannot complete this regimen, I am locked out of the assisted living facility where I have resided for the last six years.
This is the third night I will toss and turn in the sauna that is room 6419 in the Detox Unit of Saint Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center (SPARC) in Albany, New York — an experience this author believes exists solely in the bowels of hell.
Xanax and Valium belong to a family of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Initially created as a smooth muscle relaxants, they soon found great favor in the medical community as anxiolytics. (anti-anxiety) Both drugs are highly effective and have an impressive safety profile. In New York State they are classified as “Controlled Substances,” and require a special three-part prescription form.
In the summer of 2009, after taking Xanax for nearly 15 years to help combat Parkinson’s-related anxiety, my primary care physician suddenly refused to write anymore prescriptions for the drug. He also suggested that I admit myself into the addiction recovery center (SPARC), where – as director – he would personally see to it that I received “the best care possible.”
I made a compromise: I would admit myself through the ER to a medical surgical ward, but clearly stated I was not interested in the drug rehabilitation unit. And that’s exactly what I did. Two days later I was informed that I was being transferred to the drug rehab unit. I was also told that this offer was nonnegotiable: either I complete the drug rehab program or my assisted-living facility would not let me return home. Just like that.
Within hours I was admitted to the drug rehabilitation unit, strip-searched, and given a bed. Once “processed,” and contrary to everything they teach you about HIPAA, from that moment forward, your medical records will always carry a diagnostic entry that reflects your stay at the
Hotel California: “Relax said the night-man, we are programmed to receive; you can checkout any time you’d like, but you can never leave.”
Upjohn, the manufacturer of the drug strongly suggests a titration schedule that slowly and gradually brings the patient safely off the drug. In my case, the titration schedule – according to Upjohn – would consist of a minimum withdrawal period of 21 days.
They gave me a mild sedative (Librium) for three days, then announced my withdrawal program was “officially over” and I was being discharged to a halfway house, where I would stay for the next 27 days. And oh, by the way, this too was nonnegotiable. If I failed to stay the full 27 days, the director of my assisted-living facility said bluntly I would not be welcomed back.
This time, I stood my ground. I refused to go to the halfway house. Instead, I called my former tennis partner, a well-respected attorney in Albany, and explained the situation.
He made one phone call to my assisted-living facility and within two hours of vehicle from the facility was dispatched to pick me up and bring me back to the facility.
Within an hour of returning to the facility, a med tech came to my room to deliver my scheduled medication. I remember the moment vividly because I was hallucinating.
The “three-day cure” had initiated my decent into hell.
From that moment forward, things went from bad to ‘worst case scenario.’
I was actively hallucinating, terrified of leaving my room and was taken by ambulance on at least ten occasions to local area hospitals.
On one of my myriad trips to local Emergency Rooms – and without my knowledge – a physician wrote a prescription for a drug used to control Parkinson’s. Known side effects of the medication include:
difficulty remembering or concentrating
During the next six months, I was admitted to seven different hospitals, each one more brutal than the last – all the time unaware that this medication-induced nightmare could have been reversed if I’d only had an advocate and a medication audit.
It should also be noted that it was during these terrifying months that I was formally ejected from my assisted living facility.
In the final analysis, it took a near-death experience, and the love and devotion of my sister and brother-in-law to save my life as I continued to spiral downward.
As a patient in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Schenectady, New York, I was beaten unconscious in the shower by three aides, then watched from a remote vantage point as they rushed me to the Intensive Care Unit with two pulmonary embolisms. I remember the doctors saying it was a close call.
Shortly after that, my sister and brother-in-law, who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania, found an assisted living facility near their home, and personally packed up everything I owned and moved it to an assisted living facility, Sacred Heart Senior Living in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
To Be Continued . . .