Read how a knee injury changed this patient's life forever
My story actually begins almost 20 years ago. In the year 2000, I decided that I have had all that I could take with retail. I set out to change careers, which landed me in the alarm/security industry. I was so excited to start my new journey which I found that I was really good at. The problem was that my body wasn't as willing as my passion to be successful. Almost a year into my new career, I was coming down off of a ladder, and felt a very painful snap in my knee. This led me to the doctor the following day, which I already had a strong dislike for doctors at this time. He gave me a small supply of strong pain medicine, and sent me off to see the orthopedic surgeon. I knew that I was doomed. A few days later, after getting some very bad news from the orthopedic doctor, I found myself setting up surgery for a severe tear in my meniscus. Before I exited the doctors office this day, he was sure to make certain that I would not be in pain. I stopped off at the pharmacy to pick up my prescription of a large bottle of Percocet.
I was married, trying my best to raise a very young daughter, at this time. The stress of me being out of work with a pretty serious injury, was beginning to take a toll on things. I would have to wait almost three weeks before undergoing surgery. That large bottle of pills that I picked up, was starting to get smaller, and smaller. I had never taken pills like this for anything. My wife was beginning to get very concerned with my intake of all of these pills. Looking back, they were making me absolutely crazy!
Surgery day came, and went. This was my very first surgery, and I hoped that it would be my last. Again, I was sent home with another large bottle of pills. As the weeks went on, I found this bottle diminishing very quickly. My wife worked, and my daughter was at daycare, so I was pretty much left at home alone to rot from these pills. As they were running low, and I knew that I should have more than I did, I began to panic. No way was the doc going to refill them. I didn't know what I was going to do, as obviously I couldn't even think straight. I devised a plan. I would call the doctor and tell him that the Percocet were beginning to upset my stomach. No problem, that full bottle of Vicodin would hold me over. When I got that bottle, I would call back and say they weren't working as well as the others, and I'd get another prescription called in for me. Back then, nobody was keeping track, nobody cared. My plan worked, and off to addiction I went.
This went on for about two years as I struggled on and off with my knee pain. The surgery didn't work. They fixed the tear, but not the underlying problem. I continued to see this orthopedic surgeon during this time, as he continued to hand me out pills like they were candy. My marriage was beginning to fail during these couple years. Who would want to spend there life with an addict? I didn't consider myself one at the time, but I was very naive.
Finally my orthopedic surgeon came up with a plan. I was scheduled to have a major knee surgery. I was told that this was the only thing that they could do for someone of my age, since a knee replacement would be a waste. In 2003, I was scheduled to receive an Osteotomy. This was explained to me as them having to basically cut my lower leg off, and reattaching it in a different position, as the underlying problem was that my bones weren't lined up properly. I was scared to death, and didn't have much support. Things had gotten so bad with my wife, that she decided it was best to take my daughter and move to her parents for a bit. Thankfully, my parents had just moved to Maryland, and I would have my mother there for support.
The morning of the surgery, I remember telling my mom that I had a really bad feeling about things. In just a matter of hours, my fear had become reality. I'll never forget the words "Mr Shepherd, please wake up...we have a problem". The same surgeon that was pushing these pills on me for the past two and a half years, had woken me out of my surgery only halfway through the procedure. I looked down at my completely wrapped leg as the doctor explained to me that he had discovered some contamination on the tools that the hospital supplied. The infectious disease specialist was called in to examine me. That afternoon, I was sent home with a handful of prescriptions which included both Percocet and Oxycontin. I was told to take the two together, and both myself, and my mother questioned it. I went home and did what I was told, and threw up for hours. It was so bad, I took that bottle of Oxycontin and flushed them right down the toilet.
As time went on, test results came in. I had four staph infections, and one strept infection in my knee. I had twenty staples that were trying to hold together an infected 8" cut down my knee. I ended up having to have a port placed in my chest and had to do at home antibiotics through an IV for three months. The medicine made me so sick, that I couldn't stand up straight for hours after taking it.
One problem I wasnt having anymore was getting refills. I still believe that the doctor was so afraid of a lawsuit, that this was his way of trying to make things go away. For the next year, I was popping pills like a rockstar. My marriage had completely fallen apart, and I was trying to deal with this all alone. In this timeframe, I had a series of surgeries to close the wound, and a mountain of empty pill bottles.
After these couple of years, and still taking pills, depression was setting on really heavy. There were many times that I wanted those pills to just take me to a place where I would feel no more pain. My entire family was concerned for my wellbeing. One night I was laying in bed, and swallowed what seemed like ten times as much as I was supposed to take. I just wanted it all to end. As I was laying there with tears rolling down my cheek, I could feel my breathing getting really heavy, and slowing down quite a bit. I couldn't feel any part of my body. I really didn't want it to end, although in that second, I felt I did. Somehow, I woke up a few hours later. I was completely confused and had no idea what I had just attempted to do, and why. I had a beautiful daughter, and my entire family, that I almost just put thrm all through a lifetime of hell. I couldn't let this ever happen again!
The next morning I woke up and grabbed for my pills. Just in that second, I remembered what I had done the night before, and threw the bottle across the room. In no way was I going to continue on this path. Somehow I would get through the day. I remember laying there shaking, bawling my head off, not knowing why and what was happening to me. No doctor ever explained to me what the dangers were of getting off of years of opioids. I continued like this for another day or two, scared to death that I had damaged myself permanently with the pills.
I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and had lived a pretty wild party life, up until I became a father. I had used cannabis many times as a teenager, and on and off during this time. I knew that it calmed me down, and had never hurt me in any way. I would try anything to get rid of the shakes that I was experiencing. I'll never forget the feeling of constantly feeling like I wanted to jump out of my own skin. I picked up the phone, and called my buddy that I used to get my weed from. My life was about to change drastically, forever!
After I took that very first hit, I noticed something right away, the shakes were almost gone. I felt strange knowing that I was only replacing one drug with another. At this point, I really didn't care, it was helping, and I was beginning to feel like a human again. I continued to smoke that entire bag the next couple of weeks. I also noticed my depression was still there, but not as often, and not as heavy. I wasnt going to see another doctor that was just going to feed me pills to hide my issues. I continued smoking weed and continued feeling better ever day. This continued for a month or so until I felt like myself again, but I never stopped with the cannabis. I began to feel like I had more control over my life, than ever before.
As I'm here today as proof, cannabis does help with withdrawal from opioid addiction. I almost lost my life that day because of a little white, man made pill. Because of a plant that was put on this earth for healing, I am here today to witness my daughter pursue her dreams of becoming a nurse. I believe in this so much, that I was part of putting together a petition to add opioid addiction to the qualifying list to receive medical cannabis in Maryland. Today this petition is before a committee in the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, to be decided on this year.