Locked Up in San Diego: Doctors opt for painful detention over treatment of pain

by Stephen Cobb on June 8, 2012

Right now a tale of pain and suffering is unfolding that involves my wife, Chey Cobb, pictured below in happier days. This is a tale so bizarre and unsettling it is hard to believe where it is taking place, not some distant land ruled by cruel forces of oppression and exploitation, but in San Diego County, California, USA.

Chey and Layla on a good day, before her doctor kicked her off her meds.

Chey and Layla on a good day, before her doctor kicked her off her meds.

Even as I write this, the first installment, my wife is locked away against her wishes, spending her second night away from home. Why? Because she asked for pain medication. Surely not? She must have done more than that to warrant detention. I can almost hear the incredulity over the inter-tubes.

Did she lash out in anger? Make threats? No, she did not. She asked her doctor if she could have more pills for her pain and ended up in a locked down facility.

[Update: There are several more posts on this including “Day 2 of painful detention in San Diego” and Day 3 of our San Diego healthcare nightmare. I have answered a number of questions in the Day 4 FAQ. BTW, Sharp HealthCare is the name of the organization to whom the various doctors belong.]

Just so we are clear on the type of person my wife is, she is a highly qualified and well-respected information security professional. The eldest daughter of a Navy pilot who flew carrier-based bombing missions during  the Korean War, my wife has held some of the highest security clearances granted by the American government. She is a wonderful wife and mother. She is almost sixty. She has a great sense of humor (she wrote Network Security for Dummies after working in network security for one of America’s top secret spy agencies, get it?).

Apparently, your credentials and character, your demonstrable integrity, don’t count for much when you are faced with a doctor who thinks you are lying about your pain to get high and accuses you of “drug seeking” when you say your current prescription is not enough.

Just so we are clear on the type of pain, this is chronic, unrelenting pain we are talking about, pain in the spine, lower back, ankles, knees, hips, wrists, and neck. This is 7×24 pain that fairly consistently runs about 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 if left unmitigated, pain for which doctors say there is no cure. When the pain pills wear off this is gut-wrenching, barely walking, can’t climb the stairs unassisted, too painful to sleep so now you have sleep deprivation pain.

Because she is no stranger to pain–she has suffered from migraines since her teens–my wife has learned a lot of pain management techniques, like meditation, special breathing, visualization. Those can reduce the pain a point or two on the scale. But they can’t get her down to level 4 or 5, the point at which she can at least walk a block or two, sit upright for several hours, and get some sleep at night. What we know will mitigate her pain to a manageable level is a moderate dose of cheap and well-understood drugs classified as opioids.

Warning! Never ask your doctor for opioids. If you are on opioids, never ask for more, even if your pain levels have increased. The risk? You will be cut off from you pain meds and branded a drug seeker, an addict, a junkie.

What happened to my wife is this: For about six weeks she been experiencing an increase in pain, most likely due to packing ready for our recent move (to another condo/apartment building in San Diego). Chey told her doctor she was not getting enough pain relief and a week ago on Monday Chey called to tell the doctor about it and let her know that she would run out of meds before the prescription was due to be renewed (or she would have to stop all activity and ride out the balance of the 30 days with levels of pain that would prevent sleep). The doctor was on vacation. My wife asked to speak to a different doctor. Nobody returned her calls that week.

Chey’s doctor came back from vacation this Monday and was most likely told “Mrs. Cobb has been pestering us for more pills.” The doctor finally returned my wife’s call that Monday, right in the middle of our apartment move, and told her “I’m cutting you off.” My wife was already out of pills and experiencing increased pain. On top of that she was now watching her world crumble. A delicately balanced regimen of pain management that had taken years to put together was about to be smashed. The future, which had finally started to look up, suddenly looked grim. Just how grim we had no idea.

In the next post: How to get yourself locked away and stripped of your possessions, without breaking any laws. Plus tips on avoiding the same painful fate my wife is currently suffering.

Note 1: I am listing this post in the Hemochromatosis category because my wife’s pain is very likely related to this condition and I know from my Fighting Hemochromatosis page on Facebook that other hemochromatosis sufferers have struggled to get adequate relief from their chronic pain.

Note 2: I asked my wife if it was okay to write about this situation, even though telling the story will require exposing some very personal facts. Her answer? “Tell them everything you need to if you think it may stop this happening to others.”

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