Tom Petty’s family did an unusual and brave thing on Friday: they released his autopsy and they explained why it says what it does. Some time ago, he had fractured his hip — he was sixty-six years old, remember, the age at which my grandfather was already an Eldorado-driving Florida retiree — and out of a desire to continue touring, he had begun taking pain medication. Over the course of playing fifty-plus tour dates he “turned up the volume”, as Dennis Quaid said in Any Given Sunday, to the point where he was using that destination opiod, fentanyl. It’s worth noting that fentanyl also killed Prince, who suffered with similar pain and a similar desire to keep touring despite it. When he died they found six different opiods in his system, evidence that he was mixing cocktails of painkillers in an attempt to obtain the relief that he could no longer get from just one.
As someone who has been treated with opiods multiple times for trauma injuries, I can tell you that they are only truly useful in the first few weeks. After that the required doses climb into dangerous territory. In October of 2015, I broke my leg at the Glen Helen MX track while riding a Husky 450. The actual break wasn’t so bad, but in the course of putting three screws into the tibial plateau at various angles my surgeon managed to damage the main nerve. What followed was six months of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Even today, my left leg is numb sometimes and on fire other times — but that first six months was unparalleled misery. After surgery, I found that I could sleep for two hours with 10mg of OxyContin. Then it was 15. Then it was 20. Then it was 25. I was still working at the time, including a particularly miserable six hours spent in a prototype race car, so I couldn’t just lie down and deal with it. I had to keep going, which made the pain even worse, and I needed to sleep, which meant that I was reliant on the drug.
It was at that point, around the 45 day mark, that I realized I was going to become an addict if I continued using it at any level. I had to go cold turkey. It was miserable and I apologize to anybody who had to interact with me between December of 2015 and June of 2016. But if I hadn’t done that — and if I hadn’t performed a similar early withdrawal from painkilling medication in 2014 — I would probably be dead now. When I broke my ribs and fractured my arm in May of last year I didn’t even bother to fill my prescription for Vicodin. The cure is worse than the disease. But not everybody figures that out.
Furthermore, it’s no crime to want to be free from pain. I’ve been in constant pain since I broke my beck in 1988. It wasn’t until my son turned five or six that I took a moment to consider what that pain has done to shape my personality and character. John is cheerful, kind, forgiving, and enthusiastic — all the things I was when I was in my early teens. It wasn’t until I had a few pounds of flesh and muscle forcibly debrided from my legs and back, to say nothing of having a titanium rod shoved into my leg and bolted on both ends, that I because suspicious, quick to anger, and quick to criticize. Constant pain is the opposite of getting high. It removes your ability to suffer fools gladly, it destroys the baseline cheerfulness that most people use to get through the day. It sharpens your awareness of everything. Even Hemingway was more or less permanently undone by a series of injuries he suffered in a plane crash at the age of forty-three; the chronic pain he suffered afterwards figured strongly in his suicide years later.
Last week, my brother wrote about the unseen effects of emotional pain and trauma. Today, it’s my turn to talk about the misery caused by physical pain and the deadly effects of the drugs we take to palliate it. I know that a few of our most constant readers, including our own Nate, have suffered some pretty major injuries in the past few years. I’m here to tell them, and you, that it’s better to live with the pain than to try fixing it. The first path makes you a miserable son of a bitch; the second makes you a dead one.
Alright, let’s get to this extra-long roundup.
For TTAC, I wrote
* an update on the “long-term” Silverado
* some thoughts about the economics of trading in a car to save on gas
* a rental review of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
* a guide to ridiculous search-engine queries
* a review of the Detroit Auto Show
* some ruminations regarding buying a second truck
* a few potential answers to a reader question about replacing an RS
Beyond that, I managed to: go to the Detroit show, visit a friend in the Baltimore area, lose a BMX race, hit the skatepark a few times, work seventy hours at the day job, and keep Riverside Green up to date. Fortunately or unfortunately, however, the next few weeks are going to be even busier, so stick around for more content, more guest posts, and more of the insane narcissistic consumerist drivel you’ve come to, if not love, at least tolerate! I’m runnin’ down a dream!