We take medicine because it’s designed to fix a problem. Something is wrong with us — allergies, blood pressure, pain — and we use the medication to solve the issue. If there’s no other way to treat the problem, and medication is able to fix it, then that’s the path we take.
But sometimes those medicines cause more problems than they solve, resulting in us either taking additional medications to battle the additional problems, or having to suffer through those issues as well. How many times a day do you see an ad for a new drug that has a disclaimer along the lines of, “May cause nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, blurred vision …” and then some? When you need medicine for your medicine, it’s time to rethink things.
Kristen Wesley was living that life. Between surgeries, medications and everything else, she was in constant pain that was just unbearable. It led to a life where she was hooked on narcotics and opioids, unable to be comfortable for any stretch of time and just miserable. This is her story.
On the Field
Being a softball pitcher is hard work. Not only are you swinging your arm to release a ball at speeds faster than most normal humans can produce, but you’re putting your body under constant strain. As if that wasn’t enough, put that same person in the batting box to face pitches from the opponent, and the risk of injury grows even higher. Make no mistake, being a softball player is hard work, no matter what the male jocks on the baseball team say.
But with all of the risks inherent with any sport come the rewards, and Kristen had those in spades. Her career on the mound took her around the world and gave her an identity and education. The problems came when it all started to crash down around her with an injury, which started a downward spiral that took her out of the game and almost her life.
Her athletic career took roots early, with the encouragement of her father, Scott Wesley. “I felt that the art of pitching was a way to get her into the game, and move her along pretty quickly,” he says, and it seems that he was correct. Scott, a softball coach by profession, soon found his daughter taking swings in batting cages at speeds that professionals might balk at. “She literally would hit ropes,” he beams, describing the straight and hard hits she could produce.
As time went on, Kristen got better and better. Her aptitude for the game grew, and soon she found herself in high school where she could really shine. “As a freshman I was a varsity pitcher, and I just took a lot of pride in being an athlete,” Kristen says. Her abilities soon took her to Europe where she competed in the World Cup Softball Games, and she also was a part of the North American Spirit softball team. “She was pretty good,” her father says, with a small smirk.
The strain on her young body was pretty intense. “I spent at least four days a week training, a couple of hours every single day, as a young girl in my garage throwing balls — hundreds of balls with my dad as a pitcher
[and] going to the batting cages three days a week. Spending hours and hours training with my dad.” But she had the benefit of youth, and she could handle the extra pressure. Plus, it was fun — it was what she wanted to do, so there were no complaints on her end. “I remember her saying to me, ‘I can’t thank you enough, dad.’” Scott says.
Her status as an all-star pitcher came with her to college, where she kept up her fierce competitive spirit. “We ranked fourth in the nation; we went to the World Series my freshman year which was super exciting,” she recalls. “I was set to be the first string pitcher the following year, and that’s when I had a freak accident.”
That freak accident was a back injury where she herniated her L4-L5 discs. At first, the urgency of the situation didn’t register with Kristen. “I just thought that I strained my back really bad and pulled a muscle,” she says. As a result, she continued to play with the injury, and that made it get worse and worse. By the end of the season, she was in pretty intense pain, and they visited a doctor to determine what the best course of action was. After attempting more conservative treatments, things still weren’t getting any better. By the time August came around, the doctor said that surgery was her only option, so Kristen had a procedure done.
The surgeries didn’t go as well as planned, and she was still in pain, but those weren’t the only issues that Kristen had to deal with. “It was a really big heartache for me because I lost my identity in a lot of ways. I lost my identity as an athlete, which I trained for my entire life. As a student, [because] I wasn’t able to sit through my classes.”
Things continued to spiral downwards from there. Softball was suddenly gone from her life, and with that went her college scholarship as well. Because the sciatica pain in her legs was so bad, she couldn’t sit in class, so eventually she was forced to withdraw from school. She left her west coast college and came back to live with her parents to try to figure out what to do with her life.
At this point, the only thing that Kristen thought she could do to get through the pain was to take prescription pain killers, both narcotics and opioids. “I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a Pain Management doctor that could help me, so i continued to take a miserable cocktail of drugs for a few years, which created a vicious cycle of terrible side effects, struggle with addiction and terrible withdrawl symptoms.” These drugs brought their own problems. Migraine headaches, a lack of focus, depression — these all manifested themselves in various ways for the time she was on the medication, even putting her in the hospital on more than one occasion. Things were bad. Really bad.
Recovery and Reevaluation
Kristen didn’t want to take this situation lying down, so she started researching her options. After looking and visiting various hospitals and clinics, she found a pain specialist in her area that had a different approach to handling her issues. They didn’t want to focus on medication; for them, it was about finding alternative approaches to the problem first and slowly taking her off of her existing medications. This was the break she had been looking for.
What did they do to manage pain? “Before seeing the Arizona Pain, I wasn’t able to manage my own regiment with alternative therapies, or get relief for myself other than with the use of medications.” Her answer, came in the form of some other options. “A TENS unit, spinal decompression, topical ointments and patches, chiropractic techniques — those all really helped me get back to feeling better.”
Prior to seeing the Arizona Pain, Kristen’s life was pretty limited. She couldn’t travel, because sitting for too long would put her in intense pain. Certain car seats were so uncomfortable that it became unbearable, and work became a problem as well. She couldn’t live a normal life without taking medication. She wasn’t able to even do simple tasks like take her dogs for a walk around the block. Now, all that has changed. “Through trying these alternative therapies — other solutions besides medications — I’m able to slowly increase my activity level. Actually work out again, strengthen my muscles, strengthen my back without pain flare-ups that, in turn, allows me to increase my overall activity.”
Although she’s been through a lot of pain these past few years, today she’s confident and looks out on a bright future. She also has a few words of health advice to other people in similar situations to her own. “As a former and current patient who’s always trying to manage my pain levels and has also seen the worst and best of the progress, I would say to anyone else in chronic pain, don’t give up. Keep trying lots of different things, don’t just necessarily think that one thing is the answer. Sometimes it takes a combination of different therapies to help you get off opioids and get you back to living a normal life.”
For more information about opioids, please visit: Paindoctor.com/opioid-resources.