Surprisingly, I still have a liver

I’ve never been sheltered when it comes to drugs. Which, considering the rest of my backwood, rural, UK childhood is somewhat unusual. Or, from the other side, usual; in the sense that the mothers of my peers and I weren’t afraid to shove paracetamol down the throats of their unsuspecting offspring as long as it got them through the school day.
Hey, all relationships have to start somewhere.

I don’t know if our generation has a name. The nineties brood? The pre-millennials? Pre-Gen X? Broken by the fact that ours was a generation that hit highschool somewhere between ‘85-’95, when the world was becoming restless on a variety of levels, the internet was about to hit and you could still obtain paracetamol by the ton, rather than these days when you can only buy 16 tablets in a single transaction.
Go to Canada, you can buy bottles of 500, it’s surreal.

So you start with the paracetamol, the aspirin, the ibuprofen. Generic, store-brand, name-brand, Lemsip, Beechams, double-strength, triple-strength, with a caffeine chaser, I used to carry some in my bag in school. Not sure if that’s allowed now. Made sense though, if caffeine made you react quicker, what’s wrong with taking a few pills just before an exam? Write faster, think faster, don’t have to provide a urine test before or after, job done.

This was all the legal stuff. Heck, this stuff was promoted. Same way they pushed tranquilisers on depressed housewives in the 1950’s. The illegal stuff wasn’t spoken about, just screamed at you by the posters adorning every classroom wall. A rogue’s gallery of the more common substances, including stuff like aerosols and glue, bottles that lived in my poppa’s workshop all year round and according to this poster could kill just by me holding the can. Huffing eh? Sounds mucky.

I first heard about skunk when a boy I was teaching a paper-round too asked me if I wanted some, one wet Sunday morning. I said no. Not out of fear, more so bemusement. A childish part of my brain conjuring the poor animal wrapped in papers being burned up between the teeth of an unsuspecting 14 year old.
They start them young in my village apparently.
I left him to skin up, completed the route before picking him up on the way back to the shop. This was one of my last routes before I handed it over to him, passing the torch, him obviously being younger. Two weeks later the storeman rang my house asking if I’d reconsider picking the route up again, he didn’t say why but I didn’t need to guess.

I stayed on the paracetamol/aspirin/ibuprofen combo for the next few years. ‘Freshers flu’ hit like it was supposed to and I needed the pills more than ever.
I didn’t hit anything stronger until I was given Advil later in my second year of college. Bruising my shoulders playing hockey and faced with a 9 hour flight across the pond I asked the pharmacist for the strongest thing she could give me. Two pills and an alcoholic drink later and I’m flying to Toronto in every sense possible.

It’s funny how a change in life can change your outlook. And your access to the medication needed for the outlook. Doing my nursing training gave me the most important thing any legal medicator needs. Knowledge. Pharmacy 101; don’t mix this with that, you can mix this with that but only in these amounts, causing these side-effects, symptoms, reactions, rashes.
I even started buying things (legally!) online. Which is HIGHLY NOT recommended. The result being the drug I was taking mixed with something in the curry I had for dinner that night and I had to take a moonlight bounce to the London A&E. Apparently it was a severe, full body allergic reaction. Nothing like spending 3 hours and 56 minutes* in a waiting room after midnight only to be told it’s nothing they can treat and here, have some anti-histamine. Those online pills went in the bin.

And surgery. Surgery is the biggest addictor there is. Oh, you’re recovering from stomach surgery? Oh here, have a script for codeine. Chase with voltarol. Said the surgeon as he let me out the door in 2008. Thanks, don’t mind if I do.
I read a book called ‘Hero of the Underground’ by Jason Peter. An ex-NFL player he basically lays blame for many of the drug problems American athletes have at the door of the leagues they play for. You give people free access to some of the most powerful pharmaceutical medication ever created and then wonder why they’re mainlining heroin ten years later? Especially with sports like US football and hockey, hard-hitting painful sports with long-reaching physical implications. Peter had terrible shoulder problems and ended up smoking 10 bundles of heroin a day (10 bags to a bundle) when the access to the Vicodin and the Percocets ran out.
Fortunately I didn’t turn into a dope fiend that year.

But I knew my back was a powder-keg.
It had been gimpy ever since my second year of nursing. And I’d spent a lot of money on a private chiropractor seeing me every 8-12 weeks to try and ease out the muscles and joints that have a tendency to lock up after a long day nursing.
The day my back finally blew came two years ago when it was discovered I’d damaged ligaments in my spine. A month away from work and a script for codeine didn’t do much and I have trouble with my back to this day.
Moving into a new hospital last year didn’t do great things for my spine and I moved from the codeine to the amitriptyline. With a chaser of diazepam. Both of these sweeties are used primarily to get decent sleep. And it’s really what I use them for today. Along with the paracetamol/ibuprofen mixes when work gets a little too hectic. And the bonus thing about the amitriptyline is that when you stop taking it you get really vivid dreams. And I won’t say no to that experience either.

But I have to wonder what this heavy, and varied, pill usage is doing to my body?
It’s not just painkillers, you go to any supermarket and you will see shelves of vitamins and minerals, supplements, capsules, remedies, both pharmaceutical and natural. It’s an industry worth billions.
Does it work? Probably not. Scientists now say that most of our life-changing physical problems are genetic, most of the time. Sure if we smoke, drink and mainline ourselves to happiness we aren’t helping the odds very much but the opinion at the moment, from both scientists and public alike is if your number’s up then there’s not much you can do.

So I do take the pills when I need to. And my history of legal popping has been varied. But as I steam through my thirties I’m trying to stay as healthy as I can as well as pain free. Fish oil, glucosamine (damn you hockey! I wish I had my knees for a little while longer) vitamin c and zinc, multivitamins, all of these I hope are doing me some good.
And I try to eat well when I can. But we all know healthcare isn’t the best career for healthy living. I must do more yoga.
But can you see why I don’t drink that much? Sometimes I think it’s because I don’t like the taste or the feeling I get when I start to “loosen up”. But maybe it’s just my poor liver unable to cope alongside the drugs I’ve been pumping into it for almost three decades? Just a thought.

*UK hospitals have a target of seeing every patient within 4 hours. It says something of the triage system when I was the only one of half a dozen patients in that A&E that the docs left waiting virtually until the deadline before seeing them. Apparently it’s even worse these days, six hour waits are not uncommon. Thanks Conservative government!


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