If you follow me on Twitter you know that most of my tweets have been about #OpioidAwareness lately. As a chronic pain patient with multiple arthritis diagnoses, opiates are apart of my pain management program. I say pain management and not treatment because I am under the belief that part of the stigma regarding opiates is people associate medication with curing a disease. Opiates do not cure my pain; they mask or hide it so I can regain the time that would have been lost to my pain. My body is still very much experiencing the physiological and mental symptoms of pain, I am just able to cope better than I would without opiates.
Coping is an interesting term that is defined differently by every chronic pain and arthritis patient on the planet. I do not assume to speak for anyone but myself when I say coping for me means an opportunity to live a meaningful and mindful life, just like most “healthy” people want. Like many patients, I can accept that there will never be a cure for my particular patient issues. However, I can hope that science will come up with ways to give me more opportunities to live a meaningful and mindful life, which is how I cope. Coping means adding time back to my life in order to accomplish what my heart wants too. Alternative pain management techniques are very much a tool I rely on in my own pain management program that gives me hope for a more mindful life.
Much like coping, alternative pain management is also defined differently by every chronic pain and arthritis patient on the planet. In my case, it is fair to label me a high functioning, athletic patient of which there are many of us. My alternative pain management techniques include skiing, skiing, photography, hiking, mountain climbing, road biking, gym rat, reading, Buddhism, writing, eating, flotation therapy, blogging, and did I mention skiing just to name a few. For comparison, I know other high functioning; athletic patients include knitting, painting, cooking, running, triathlons, poetry, travel, caretaking, yoga, drawing, and Buddhism in their definition of alternative pain management. Although there is overlap, each patient is still an individual, which means their techniques are just as unique as they are.
Part of my high functioning status comes from the fact that I am still able to work full-time as a Senior Financial Specialist. Although my employer supports me, they would like to remain anonymous in my blogging life. That said much of my financial compensation is online if you know where to look. With Twitter limited to 140 characters, it is incredibly hard to express the financial side of being a chronic pain patient with arthritis. Since blogging is best for complicated, multifaceted issues I would like to submit to you an insight to my own finances as a patient. (I would like to point out that I am still taking an increase risk to my financial future by sharing my life with opiates. Too many patients don’t feel as comfortable taking this risk as I do. My hope is my story is more powerful than the risk, please cross your fingers for me!).
As a Senior Financial Specialist I am an hourly employee with good health insurance and retirement benefits. Much of my compensation comes form the fact that I only pay roughly $50.00 a month for health insurance through Blue Cross of Idaho. As we all know “good” is a relative term, in this case it means for living in Boise, Idaho. My hourly wage is above the average needed for a single person living in Boise but would be considered low if I had a small family. Here is a general description of my income broken down:
After Taxes/Benefits Monthly Income
$2,200.00 a month
$600.00 a month or 27.27% of Monthly Income
Food (Groceries & Eating Out)
$150 a week or 27.27% of Monthly Income
Free Income after Major Expenses
$1,000.00 a month
Alternative Pain Management Technique Costs-
Skiing-10 Years as a Ski Instructor
Season Pass at Bogus Basin Ski Resort
$499.00 or 22.68% of Monthly Income
Head Supershape Skis
$999.00 or 45.41% of Monthly Income
Head Ski Boots
$599.00 or 27.23% of Monthly Income
North Face Denali Jacket
$179.00 or 8.14% of Monthly Income
North Face Ski Pants
$140.00 or 6.36% of Monthly Income
Photography-Just for a camera
Sony A6000 Mirrorless
$549.99 or 25.00% of Monthly Income
$699.99 or 31.82% of Monthly Income
Cannon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR Camera
$649.00 or 29.50% of Monthly Income
Floatation Therapy-One Hour
Stillwater Float Center
$65.00 or 2.95% of Monthly Income
Gym-One Year Membership
Idaho Athletic Club
$465.88 or 21.11% of Monthly Income
One Pumpkin Spice Latte & Muffin
$9.54 or .43% of Monthly Income
Book-Barns and Noble
Falling Off the Roof of the World
$11.37 or .57% of Monthly Income
Physical Therapy-No Insurance
Per Visit if Paying in Cash
$120.00 or 5.45% of Monthly Income
Physical Therapy-My Insurance
Up to 16 Visits
4.38% of a Year
My Opioid Prescription-
Thanks to my good insurance I pay $10.00 for 120 pills that must last me for 30 days. My current pain management doctor will allow me up to 4 opiates a day.
Prescription with Insurance-Fred Meyer Pharmacy
120 pills that must last 30 days
$10.00 or .45% of Monthly Income
.08$ per Opiate
Analysis of Numbers
To begin with lets look at my skiing. I started skiing at 5 years old. During college I was working as a ski instructor, which meant I probably spent close to 100 days on the snow a year during my prime. Due to my medical issues, I’m now grateful and mindful to get 5 to 10 days at an ability level somewhat near to my ski instructing days. However, more and more, my disease wins and I only get 1 or 2 runs in before the pain gets so bad I can’t take it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to risk only 1 or 2 runs versus yet another night on my couch with ice packs and pills.
Currently a season pass at my home ski resort of Bogus Basin costs $499.00 a season. To put it another way, that is 6,237.50 opiates or 4.27 years of potential pain management for me. Generally speaking, one opiate is supposed to provide 4 to 6 hours of coping relief. That means 6,237.50 opiates has the potential to provide me with 24,950 to 37,425 hours of coping that I would have lost to pain. There are 8,760 hours in a year, which means one season pass at Bogus Basin could potentially buy me 2.84 to 4.27 years of pain coping if my math is correct.
Ski equipment. As a long time skier, who is well over 6ft tall, I need equipment on the high end of the performance spectrum in order to match my ability and size. I could probably get by with cheaper equipment but the increase risk to my health due to cheap equipment would not be worth it. That is why I have researched the price of Head Supershaped skis and corresponding boots. Many buyers’ guides and top skiers throughout the world generally consider Head ski equipment “the best”.
To outfit me with just skis, boots, pants, and a coat would cost me $1,917.00 or 87.14% of my monthly income. For the sake or argument, lets assume I can ski 5 years with this equipment before it needs replacing. This reduces the expense to $383.40 a year; $383.40 a year equates to 4,792.50 pills. In this case I am now choosing between new equipment every 5 years or up too 28,755 hours of my life back from chronic pain.
Floatation therapy is a new technique for pain management that I have only begun to utilize to my benefit. For those of you that have never tried floatation therapy I HIGHLY recommend that you do! It consists of floating in an enclosed capsule full of 10 pounds of Epson salt water that is warmed to body temperature. I’ve found it to be both a physical and mental reward that is unlike anything else that I have experienced so far. In a perfect world I would float at least once a week for my current levels of chronic pain and arthritis disease activity. I can’t say enough good things about this alternative pain management technique.
In Boise Idaho one hour of floating costs $65.00 plus tip. I usually tip $10, which makes the total expense of floating $75.00 per visit for me. At .08$ per pill, with my good insurance, one visit is equates to 937.50 pills. I would need to get 234.38 days of relief from 1 hour of floating to equate to the same number of hours of relief I could potentially get from 937.50 pills. I’m a huge fan and advocate of floating, but I guarantee you one float does not equate to 65.21% of a year relief from my chronic pain unfortunately.
I get up each morning with the hope of a higher quality of life. It is the reason I see multiple doctors on a monthly basis, eat mostly organic food, work, go to the gym, ski, and take scary medications (like the chemotherapy drug methotrexate which has just ridiculous side effects). A higher quality of life is the reason for this post and any advocacy or help I’ve ever provided on social media. The desire for a higher quality of life is the reason for my friendships and fuels my desire to complete all opportunities that have crossed my path at the highest possible level.
Thankfully I can still work full-time at a high level job that compensates me well. In addition, I come from a family in the solid to high middle class economic category that has afforded me with opportunities that too many patients have not had. Long story short, I get to take advantage of many more alternative pain management techniques due to my economic status than most. Right now I have a relatively high quality of life despite my chronic pain and arthritis disease.
However, despite my relatively solid economic status, I still face choices each day regarding my use of opiates and alternative pain management techniques. I still have to balance life with my economic and financial reality, which is barrier to a high quality of life. Right now I can’t imagine the stress a fellow patient has to go through each and every day that isn’t as lucky as I’ve been in regards to finances. Stress is a huge trigger of pain, huge trigger.
According to the movies and tv, falling in love is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I have no trouble accepting this idea. However, even if I were to only fall in love and not have children, much of the financial information I have shared today would be obsolete. My calculations and lifestyle are currently based on the idea of selfishness and loneliness. Something as pure as falling in love could and would have an impact on my ability to take advantage of alternative pain management opportunities currently available. Now imagine the changes that would occur if I lost my job, got into a serious car wreck, or succumb to the family history of having major strokes.
Opiates are not a medication in the traditional since of an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory. They are more time management tools so I can continue to ski, go to the gym, read, study Buddhism, or partake in floatation therapy. The idea is if I can continue to participate in these alternative activities then maybe I can reduce my opiate intake. I don’t want to take opiates, the constipation alone can be worse than the actual pain I’m trying to cope with. However, I only have a limited number of hours on this planet and I want to make sure I use them all to the greatest of my potential. I will make mistakes, fail at friendships, accidently eat gross coconut things, and avoid vegetables like the plague, but that is life, not life with chronic pain.