Over the stable door: Little comfort in pain relief

A serious fall left lasting damage for Jo Foster.

A serious fall left lasting damage for Jo Foster.

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I have had an early morning work rider off sick recently. Tris has spent the week in a bad mood, my jovial helpful boyfriend has turned in to a grumpy, strained shadow of his regular self.

The reason for the changed behaviour is toothache. What started out as a dull ache last weekend gradually worsened. On Monday he was told he had an infection in his root canal.

“Where did you go to get this filling done?” asked the dentist as she poked and prodded. “It’s the reason behind your problem, quite a poor job.”

“Err here, the other dentist did it,” Tris mumbled.

“Oh,” she replied. “Well, it will need to be redone. Come back in two weeks.”

He came home carrying antibiotics, aspirin and a serious grimace fixed on his face.

Things didn’t improve. In the middle of the night I woke to find him rolling about, holding his head and wailing in pain. I phoned 911 and he went straight to Airedale General Hospital who gave him stronger painkillers, Tramadol. The very word sent a shiver down my spine.

Like a large number of jockeys, I take Tramadol for a back injury I sustained 12 years ago. A first fence fall at Market Rasen left my spinal cord in tatters. The drug eventually allowed me to lead a normal life without having the constant red hot blistering nerve spasms down my arms. In one sense it has been a vital lifeline for me, my saviour, the source of every optimistic emotion I feel. Yet the morphine-based drug has a darker side.

The initial side effects I once endured; a detachment from everything happening around me, the vague glimpse of fairies flittering at the end of my bed, bizarre and frighteningly real dreams and frequent bouts of narcolepsy may have long since passed but I’m being shockingly reminded of them as I watch Tris throw the little tablets down his throat to numb his all-consuming mouth pain.

Thankfully they manage to alleviate his pain but in the few days he’s been on Tramadol I can see in his eyes all is not quite normal. One evening after arriving home from the office he never materialised in the house. When I went out to find him he was sound asleep in the car.

Thankfully, once a dentist fixes the tooth he won’t need further pain relief. He’s well aware of my love-hate relationship with it. I’m told I may need pain relief for the rest of my life but I would dearly love to be free of it (I refused to take even a single aspirin until the age of 28).

However, I live in dread of the day I try to detach myself from Tramadol. I attempted it some years ago, when the jockey club debated not renewing my riding license. I spent 16 days without any. It was the darkest 16 days of my life.

The pain was bearable but the withdrawal symptoms dragged me to hell and beyond. I like to think I can cope with most things but it gave me a new found respect for drug addicts who have got through cold turkey. In the end, with a business to run and a family to care for, I still needed pain relief so my specialist advised I go back on the dreaded little drug.

Unlike mine Tris’ discomfort is short term so he won’t be needing them for much longer. Then, I will have my charming good tempered boyfriend back (and normal riding out duties can be resumed).

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