Rush, pain and drugs

Rebecca Hagelin

10/22/2003 12:00:00 AM - Rebecca Hagelin

Rush Limbaugh's recent travails have me thinking about my mom a lot lately. Sometimes her face comes to me in the middle of the night, not in a dream, but when I'm half-awake as I roll over.

Last year, I lost my mom to the evil that is cancer, and although I feel blessed to have been holding her hand, lovingly stroking her hair and whispering words of comfort and prayer to her as she suffered through the last hours of her life here on earth, the memory of her agony on one of her final days continues to haunt me.

Thank God, the period of agony was brief. But it will forever be etched in my mind – it was as if I had seen someone being tortured. It happened one evening when I left Mom's room ever so briefly as a nurse came in to administer her pain medication. I was exhausted and hungry after sitting by her bedside for hours on end over a two-day period. It seemed safe to slip out and take my little girl, who tenderly helped me comfort her dying grandmother, to a quiet place where we could grab a bite to eat and I could check to see how my 10-year-old was holding up through the life-changing experience.

When I returned about 45 minutes later, Mom was thrashing and moaning in pain. She couldn't talk, and she kept struggling to reach her legs. I'm still not sure what specific message she was trying to communicate about her legs – all I know is that she was in tortuous pain. I ran into the hallway to find a nurse. Back at her bed, I was horrified to find the small white cup of powdered pain medicine that she should have been given 45 minutes earlier tangled in her sheets, still half-full. The IV that delivered a constant stream of another type of pain medication was flowing much slower than usual. No wonder she was suffering so.

Mom's body was wracked with cancer – the cruel evil had eaten its way through so many of her bones, cracking and crumbling them as it feasted relentlessly on the marrow. The overstressed nurse, in an under-staffed facility, finally made her way in to administer the double doses of medicine I demanded. The next three hours seemed like an eternity as I tried desperately to calm my sweet mother and make her as comfortable as possible – all the while fighting the invisible hand of her tormentor. It took four hours to return the level of pain medication in her bloodstream to the place where she could once again fall fast asleep in blissful numbness.

After that horrible evening, I never again left Mom's room until her soul left her body.

Chronic, severe pain: For those who have never had to live with it, there is no understanding of how brutal it is to the body, mind and spirit. There's a reason why torture is scorned by every civil society – to inflict pain on another human being is the cruelest of acts, and entirely inhumane. Yet, every day there are thousands of Americans right here at home – in our extremely civil society – who suffer needlessly.

Some of our loved ones suffer out of ignorance of what is available to relieve their pain. Others suffer because not all doctors take the time to study the latest methods in pain-control. Thankfully, God in his mercy had provided me, through my friend Rita Marker, a book titled, "Power Over Pain: How to Get the Pain Control You Need" that showed me Mom could receive complete relief.

Too many people don't know there is help. And for those such as Rush, whose source of pain isn't terminal, the choices are much fewer. Rush's apparent drug of choice was OxyContin – a powerful, but highly addictive "blessing" to those who suffer from pain. My mother was on this very painkiller her last months of life. For those whose fate is certain – those like mom who have lost the battle with cancer – the drug is a Godsend. For the dying, "addiction" or "dependence" doesn't matter. It's a small price to pay to be free from the brutality of constant, severe pain. For those like Rush, whose pain can be just as cruel – but whose ailment holds no power to hasten death – the challenge is harder.

Undoubtedly, in his quest to find relief from his severe back and neck pain – for which he had already gone through surgery, but to no avail – Rush made mistakes along the way. Rush is but one of thousands of Americans who will become addicted to the powerful medications that relieve their pain. For some, to become a slave of tiny pills is almost inconsequential compared to the suffering caused by the sinister weapon of pain that seems to come from Satan himself.

As I roll over and think of Mom's face, I say a prayer of thanks that she is in a place free from pain and drugs. I also whisper a prayer for Rush and the millions of others around the world who are slaves of pain or pills or both. My hope is that as Rush struggles to overcome his dreadful addiction, the doctors will provide him with relief that won't have another form of suffering as the price, and that he will emerge as a crusader for those helplessly afflicted by pain and addiction. I also take time to remember, "But that for the grace of God, there go I."