Crew (A Heart for Any Fate, 2015, etc.) shares an agonizing account of prescription drug dependence and withdrawal in this memoir.
The author had knee replacement surgery in 2012, and the oxycodone prescription she received afterward seemed like an effective tool for coping with post-surgery pain. Yet she soon observed that she wasn’t recovering as quickly as she had hoped; she suffered from strange toothaches and struggled to muster enough energy to get through the day. Despite never taking a pill outside of what her doctors prescribed, Crew says, she had become addicted to painkillers. She weaned herself off of oxycodone, as well as antianxiety, antidepressant, and antimigraine medications—all prescribed by well-intentioned doctors but interacting, she says, in ways that proved disastrous for her physical and mental health. Crew struggled for years afterward with post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, in which withdrawal symptoms persist long after drug consumption stops. She says that she endured depression, anxiety, pain, exhaustion, and alienation from her friends and family, but her memoir ends on an optimistic note that points toward survival. Crew insightfully comments on the institutional and interpersonal minefields that sick people must navigate. She observes, for example, that doctors who are too willing to hand out prescriptions contribute to the addiction epidemic, as do doctors who respond to requests for help with suspicion: the first group gets people “hooked,” she says, while the second shames people who are trying to stop. Crew’s interactions with her family can be upsetting, and she clearly shows that the frustration that caused her to lash out was tied to her pain and to society’s difficulty accepting chronic illness. Yet it’s hard to read the note that Crew left for her husband when she went to be alone in their beach house (“Enjoy your vacation from me”) and not feel immense sympathy for the person who found it. This element of the memoir might have been more effective if it were recalled more retrospectively, with more of an attitude of calm analysis instead of in-the-moment pain and rage. But Crew’s battle with her brain and body, as well as the medical system, is still well told and moving.
An occasionally uneven but emotionally engaging story of one woman’s struggle to survive and recover after falling through the cracks of the health care system.