Yes, it DOES make a difference

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

I wrote this yesterday in an extreme fog and do not have the spoons to rework and polish it. Apologies for the brainspill, but these days it’s the only option I have.


For background, see Ouyang Dan’s post on the problematic aspects of the TV show House. Don’t tell me that people realize this is fictional. Don’t tell me that people know how to maintain that separation. Some do. Many don’t. And they’re everywhere. At the bottom of the totem pole… and in positions of power over the very people they are prejudiced against.


I was called back to work two weeks ago. I work at a government office that provides certain assistance programs. (Once you go to work for one government agency, you realize there are a whole lot more of them than you ever thought before.) I really don’t want to go into it any more specifically than that.

It’s been very rough on me. Last winter, work was physically draining. I basically have two whole hours every day that I am awake and not at work, preparing for work, or traveling to and from work, and semi-conscious. Not only am I so physically exhausted that I go to bed three hours after work ends, I am so physically exhausted that my brain just cannot be pushed any further. I have trouble comprehending the blogs and news sites I normally read; writing is usually out of the question. Of course, we won’t even talk about anything more physical than that — even preparing a boxed dinner for myself is too difficult. My apartment is even more a mess than usual, because I don’t have the energy to pick up the clothes that I shed as soon as I get the front door shut, the mail and personal items that trail after me from the couch to the bedroom…

Unfortunately, so far this year, it hasn’t just been physically draining. I’ve been dealing with a sudden onset of severe migraines, and not the type of migraines I’ve had since childhood and have an intimate knowledge of — these are more classic migraines, the nausea, the aura and vision distortion, the intense pain and pressure behind the eyes… The pain is not as overwhelming as my normal migraines (where a twitch of the toe makes me want to scream or cry or at least moan, but the movement and force of emitting any noise at all would hurt even worse, so I just curl up and remain frozen in misery), but the experience is just as miserable because it block’s my brain’s ability to function, even to process the smallest of information. I’ve been having trouble writing six-digit numbers on the top of each application. And normally I work faster than the worker next to me, but the past two weeks she’s been cranking out work three times faster than me.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been doing everything in my capacity to do to fight these headaches off. Everything. And no, I don’t want any helpful suggestions. But regardless, even with all the desperate measures I have been taking, they persist.

On top of it all, my endometriosis has decided to flare up at the same time. So I get double nausea, extreme abdominal cramps, persistent pelvic pain and other symptoms.

I’ve been in a lot of pain.

I take a lot of medications. For pain. I take medications that have no effect on people who do not have a specific type of pain disorder. And I take medications that people who are not in pain popularly take to get high. (I do not, for the record, take anything to get high myself.) And I put up with a lot of shit to continue taking one of few medications that works and that enables me to work.

(I guess I could give it up and therefore be putting up with less shit. But then I’d, you know, not be able to work. And for so long as I have the option to be able to work, I’m taking it. Because I may not even have that option forever. Situations change, bodies change, and bodies change how they react to medications over time. I’m doing what is necessary for myself and my family at this point in our lives.)

So, at work today.

I sit on the far side of the first floor of our building, along with all the other people working in my particular program, the people working on another program, and a couple stray general clerks across from all of us. The other program’s supervisor and one of the other program’s workers (OPS/OPW hereafter) were talking about a certain case, a woman who was being denied medication and needed help obtaining it. This was before lunch, it was a general talk in a work context, that is how to get the problem solved.

My husband and I went home for lunch, as we do regularly, given that we live less than five minutes from our workplace. It takes half the lunch period but it is worth the spoons because it makes the workday so much more bearable — two four-hour chunks rather than one long nine-hour one. We sit around, watch The People’s Court reruns, eat our lunch and laugh at the cats who get in silly, hyper, meddling moods around that time.

I returned from lunch, feeling a lot better having had a break from the fluorescent lighting and ambient noise of the HVAC system. And a few minutes after I got back, sitting next to the OPS scanning documents into the computer system, OPW wandered back over and began talking again about the client from before.

The medication? Oxycontin. Her doctor has been prescribing it to her for over 15 years.

And the conversation? Went like this. (As typed soon after in an email to my husband, as close as I could get to what they actually said, given how stunned and hurt I was while it was happening.)

OPW: do you watch house?
OPS: no not really
OPW: well he has some sort of leg injury, but he takes that other one, what is it? vicodin
OPS: uh huh
OPW: and they sent him to rehab, and he just had to find something to occupy his mind so he wouldn’t think about it
OPS: yeah they get addicted so easy
OPW: and now they put him on regular pain killers and he’s doing just fine
OPS: yeah a lot of the time tylenol or advil works just as well, people just want the high
OPW: exactly, and their doctors prescribe it to them and they hand it out to family members…

And the conversation went on like this for a couple minutes, with the two of them walking back and forth fetching printed documents, attending to the scanning etc.

I just… I’m not terribly private about my condition. I don’t bring it up, but if it’s relevant I talk about it. I do try to avoid telling my coworkers that I take narcotic medications (as opposed to just “medications”) but I have gone over it specifically with HR as it can be a security issue in some agencies.

I was sitting right there. OPW sits on the other side of me, and had to walk around me to get to where OPS was at the scanner. I was sitting right there.

They were talking about me.

They weren’t thinking of me, of course. They’d never make that connection. I’m young and thin and pretty enough. They know I work hard. Most of my office loves the hell out of me.

But if I had spoken up — rather than sitting there holding my breath trying not to cry — how would that opinion change? Would they start seeing me as lazy, as slacking off? Would they whisper about me every time I went to the water fountain for a drink? What was I taking? What was I doing with it? Would they start taking certain behaviors as symptomatic of addiction? If I passed too well one day, appearing to be just fine (to them; I am good at covering up my pain) — would they take that as evidence that I couldn’t actually be in pain and couldn’t really need that medication? And if I didn’t pass well one day — especially these days, when I’ve been stopped more than one time as someone remarks on how deathly pale I am and asks if I’m OK and tells me to take a break — would they see that resulting, not from my pain, but from the supposed addiction?

They were talking about me. They didn’t even know it. But I am that person on that medication. Pushing through the pain to keep working.

The difference is, Dr. House is a character.

I’m real.

And that woman. These were the attitudes of the people who were helping her resolve an issue. As much as I wish otherwise, workers do have some degree of latitude in deciding how they are going to approach a case, and can apply the law in different ways for different people, even if it appears pretty strict on paper.

I am that woman.

I have been there. I am there. I have to deal with unsympathetic figures in obtaining my treatment. Doctors, nurses, office staff, pharmacists, insurance reps, welfare reps, other reps. I have issues I have to call to have resolved. I have that person on the other line who’s promising me on the one hand to resolve the issue — but on the other hand …? How can I ever know?

I don’t know what was going on in this woman’s life. I don’t know if she’s dependent (there is a difference). I don’t know if she would be better off on another course of therapy. Or whether she’s tried all those other courses and they’ve given her awful side effects or they’re contraindicated given her particular condition or they’re unavailable to her due to income or access. I don’t know.

Maybe she’s abusing. Maybe she’s handing it out on the street corner.

Maybe she’s just like me. Just one person trying to power through this world as best she can. And this is the best way she’s found to do it.

8 thoughts on “Yes, it DOES make a difference

  1. AUGH! It’s like when people watch 24 and think that torture is OK. It’s this positive feedback loop of portrayal/what people want to see.

  2. Oh for goodness’ sake, this is just so many different kinds of wrong and ridiculous. It hits so many points of ableism: the assumption that a TV MD makes you an expert on other people’s health, the refusal to acknowledge disability, the willingness to cast PWD as fakers…just, ugh. I’m sorry you had to listen to that shit.

    Incidentally, does anyone know if House (in the current season) still uses a cane? The way that plotline has been portrayed in the past has been quite ridiculous, so I suppose it wasn’t much of a leap to tylenol-is-all-anyone-needs. I stopped watching the show after this season’s first episode, because of all the ableist crap regarding psychiatric institutions and we crazies.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..The Power of Self-Identification =-.

  3. You know what? I am trying to teach my dog to poo in a paper bag, light it on fire, and run away. (Well, not really, but I can dream.) Right now, she lacks motivation, but once she masters this trick, shall I send her to you? ‘Cause these sound like people who deserve to stomp on flaming dog poo.

    (Note: I’m not trying to be dismissive of your concerns at all. On the contrary, I have the same types of fears, and… some days I can either feel the emotions or eloquently put them into words. This is one of those days.)
    .-= Tori´s last blog ..And I Didn’t Even Mention Viagra =-.

  4. Here we have pain clinics that treat everybody like a scum-sucking, drug-seeking addict. . . even (and maybe especially) people who clearly, obviously (to me, anyway) have severe chronic pain that isn’t responsive to anything else but narcotics, and who clearly, obviously (to me, anyway) are taking them as prescribed and it’s just bringing them up to normal (or some close approximation thereof) and not getting them high at all.

    I don’t get it.

    My own grandmother, when she was in her late 90s and in the hospital for the last time dying in great pain, was unable to get enough narcotics because, as her doctor told my father, “she might get addicted. Or if we give her too much more it might kill her.” And my father accepted that argument.

    What is it that these people do not understand about pain?

    And you have no idea just how many people get their ideas of reality from tv & movies. People believe that the FBI really has X-Files because Mulder told them that the truth was Out There, who think they understand black culture because they watch BET, and who learned everything they know about the law from watching Judge Judy.

    You don’t believe me? Just watch, the next time something big happens on the news. At least one person, when interviewed, will breathlessly tell the reporter, “It was just like in the movies!” It never, ever fails.

    Dean Koontz wrote a book in which that was one of the dominant themes–Mr. Murder, I think. In which he nailed it as a peculiarly American cultural phenomenon. Reality is no longer the benchmark for good fiction: Here it is now the other way around.
    .-= Dr. Righteous´s last blog ..I had no fucking idea =-.

  5. “I don’t know what was going on in this woman’s life. I don’t know if she’s dependent (there is a difference). I don’t know if she would be better off on another course of therapy. Or whether she’s tried all those other courses and they’ve given her awful side effects or they’re contraindicated given her particular condition or they’re unavailable to her due to income or access. I don’t know.

    Maybe she’s abusing. Maybe she’s handing it out on the street corner.

    Maybe she’s just like me. Just one person trying to power through this world as best she can. And this is the best way she’s found to do it.”

    Yes. And they have NO RIGHT to assume ANYTHING about ANYONE who is looking for their meds, because really? I feel pretty safe in saying that people who apply to government agencies for help getting their meds are NOT doing it to get high, they’re doing it because they FUCKING NEED THE MEDICATION. ARGH I am so angry about this I cannot continue without devolving into frothing, spitting exclamations made up mostly of cuss words!

  6. Exactly.

    A couple of people have been really judgemental mental health meds, but I’ve never encountered this level of bigotry before.

    (SPOILER WARNING) And by the way, even on the FICTIONAL TV SHOW, that’s NOT actually what happened. When House went to rehab, he kept taking the vicodin in secret.
    .-= sanabituranima´s last blog ..Like lightening =-.

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