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A great drug. And it’s legal

David Sherman


Many friends and I are hooked on this great drug. It’s a tad expensive but it’s legal and we can get it almost as much as we like. Even more than we like.

No furtive meetings in the backrooms of bars and street corners with the engine running, primed for the getaway. It’s even better if you’re a needle freak and, the older we get, the more of the magic juice we get to consume.

It’s called cortisone and it’s all the rage. Everyone in town s getting shot. And you get to absorb it in comfort, lying back, staring at a surgeon's light, feeling risqué cause you’re naked from the waist down while a woman in her 30s or 40s covers your privates with a white towel lest she be exposed to what she’s probably only seen a few hundred times at work. Her private life not my business.

My friends and I have had relatively active lives. We walked, we maybe ran (to the bathroom), biked, climbed a lot of stairs and you can quantify their pleasures by counting their crumbled joints and their affinity for the sweet C -- cortisone.

Whatever has latched onto you -- bursitis, arthritis, osteoarthritis, pulled this or wrenched that -- where there’s swelling, there’s a needle loaded with the stuff oozing for you. About $40 a shot, retail, a real deal.

Our healthcare system in Quebec won’t pay for cortisone. Basically, the government says, “we’ll pay for the doctor to look at you but not to have him do anything. You’re older so suffer. And you’re probably not earning a real paycheque that we can pilfer a chunk of so screw you.”

There are a number of creams which use a form of cortisone, but if you want to embrace medical science’s wonders, you got to get shot right in the joint.

There are fluoroscopes and arthroscopes and all kinds of ways to light up your bones and joints so the doctor, often a radiologist, can take out a needle as long as a hockey stick. He watches the scope, sees your innards and aims it at whatever part of your body that has expressed its displeasure by swelling, often painfully, sometimes crippling. 

To make sure he has the right spot before he stabs you, he prods you with his finger. If you scream, he’s done radiology 101 and is now ready for the real torture.

With the magic imagery of scopes, the medical community can see your joints, as in, “You still have severe inflammation there.” 

Really? Is that why moving my shoulder causes me to vibrate like a pitch fork while begging for my mother?

That’s the cue to help you right out by gracefully slamming a needle loaded with stuff, as clear and cool as water, right into where it hurts, kind’ve like getting poked in the eye, only worse.

This is where you need a bullet to bite and be held to the table but that might expose you to the innocent eyes of the assistant, so you’re on your own, buddy. 

The trick about cortisone affection or addiction, is not to look at the needle. It is thin as a pin and loaded with gallons of liquid.

Often, the less sadistic freeze you so you don’t feel that long, long, long pin as it breaks through the skin. But, whatever they freeze you with, aside from a cast iron fry pan, it’s a joy to watch the needle slide into your inflamed joints, skirting your bones and digging into the swollen parts that have you walking like the old person you were never supposed to be.

As the needle makes its way into no man’s land, the doctor then pushes the plunger to force the stuff into your arm, which rebels at being flooded with a foreign glop. Rebels enough so that the last doctor complained at what it was doing to his thumb. I asked him if he wanted to change places.

Since the wonder of chemical freezing only goes so far, the thousand-foot needle buried in your shoulder, knee, hip, hand, causes as much pain, if not more, than the reason you’re here in the first place.

Unfortunately, recent research says maybe the stuff isn’t as effective as claimed. Maybe it only works temporarily. Maybe you should let nature heal you and keep away from anything that artificially reduces the body’s compilation of inflammation. Inflammation, my doctor told me, is nature’s ways of telling you to “stop doing what you’re doing.”

So, I tried. I parked it in bed, lay like a mummy, moved neither hip or knee or shoulder or neck. And, it worked. Pains disappeared. Except my back started to ache, eating was messy and nature keeps calling, pushing you to keep calling to see if there’s a cancellation cause you’ve been waiting weeks for that shot. Or two.

Most of these itises are overuse injuries. You did too much of one thing or another and your body is pissed. It secretly wanted an arm chair and a hockey game, you were on a bike or playing hockey. 

As one radiologist said, smiling as he loaded up, “Swimming is good for you. But not the crawl.”

Good to know but 40 years too late. No pain, no gain has been my mantra. And it turned out to be true. I get to enjoy these multiple sessions with doctors and radiologists and their shy assistants who avert their gaze lest they be exposed to the naked flesh of a dirty, old man. 

And, so far, the shots in knee and shoulder have helped. Hips questionable but more needles are waiting.

There’s hope, though one of the shoulder shots somehow froze the nerves in my arm and I had to carry it around for a few hours. But, at least it didn’t hurt.


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1 Comment

the never ending aches and pain of growing gracefully old. I did get my shot without paying?

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