Scoliosis led to a fusion surgery that initiated Brandy into the pain-pill cycle. It would take years and incredible effort to escape.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 9. I’ve fought chronic back pain all my life.
They braced me at age 10/11 and at by 12 the curves were progressing rapidly. It was 7th grade (November 11, 1993) went in to get my T1-T6 fused. They placed two Harrington rods that were made of Titanium. They also took bone from my lower left hip to fuse with my spine. This kept me in the hospital for 2 weeks with a morphine drip and Tylenol 3s for my back pain.
Recovery and Return to Normal Life
I recovered and became a top athlete, playing soccer, basketball (AAU) and running track. I still spent many mornings at physical therapy. Even then I would always feel the pain, but it could be managed by Tylenol.
I was offered many scholarships and was excited to continue what I love and showed talent for. Doctors didn’t think I would ever be able to make it this far. I wanted to prove them wrong! I was the youngest patient with the University of Michigan titanium spine.
Doctors Were Shocked at My Progress
The problem was that the curves of my spine were in an “S” shape. These were over 50 degrees. No one was able to predict that the lower part of my spine would continue to not only curve, but also twist (kyphosis). Playing at a college level was tough. I would be iced after practices and used a TENS unit for many years. After two years, my back was hurting more than ever, and I was still always complaining of pain.
New X-rays showed that the rods had shifted and were grinding each other. Even though the rods are usually for life, it was decided that these had to come out. The chance of me becoming permanently paralyzed was 50/50. I won those odds.
At the end of surgery, I asked to keep the rods and it was astounding to see how bent they were!
Later in life, I was diagnosed with more spinal disabilities. A MRI report showed I had Spondylolysis, so that’s Spondylolisthesis AND Spina Bifida. Doctors believe I had these for many years, it’s just that they lacked the technology to catch it.
My New Life: A Make Up Bag Full of Pills
So, by the end of 2004, I was 23-years old and had now been on Vicodin for five years. They also had me on Ultram and anti-depressants for these years. The anti-depressants actually made things worse for me. I lost weight, was not eating, and looked as white as a ghost.
The doctors had me on so may pills I honestly don’t remember them all. I had a makeup bag full of prescription drugs that were just for me. Things like Amitriptyline for sleep and Neurontin (gabapentin) for my nerves. There was also the pain patch that I got after surgery.
I was following doctors orders cause I trusted them but one day, I got sick of all of it and decided to take the pain patch off. That night I didn’t feel well, had cold sweats, was nauseous. Obviously withdrawal. But, then I lost control of all bodily functions. The following morning my mom called the doctor. I was seen immediately. He was not happy that I took off the patch and said I was really lucky I didn’t DIE. I didn’t understand how strong those patches were.
My Over-Medicated Body Revolts
A few months went by and I was waking up to hives on my body. I had thought they were bug bites. Days went by and more and more were on my body. I called my Doctor and explained the situation and was told to stop taking the Neurontin because I may be having an allergic reaction.
I was just so over-medicated. And, I really had no idea what was going on. I was so depressed and still in a lot pain in my lower back. The frustration of more pills being given to me and the side effects and being given more pills to counteract that, had me in one big vicious cycle.
I hated all these pills and was only following doctors orders because that’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Doctors were always pushing me to try Oxycontin, but I was scared cause I knew that was the strongest pain med out there. I always said that if I get on this now what will I be like in 10, 20 years if my back continues to get worse? I was on Xanax, Valium, Lexapro… just completely drugged up.
Cannabis Was Already a Part of My Recreational Life
My family did not like my marijuana use, and I would get in trouble when they would find the glass bowls I used to smoke it. I smoked a bit in high school and college.
When I had marijuana, it would definitely help. I would feel relief and didn’t need to take any of my 15 pills. But as we know, it was illegal and I had to be extremely discrete. So, I never got the long term benefit of cannabis medicine.
These Pills are Going to Kill Me
After my downfall mentally, I decided that those pills were going to kill me. And I was realizing that doctors were the worst drug dealers out there. I was extremely lucky to even be alive! It was time to try natural supplements and I made the decision to keep consuming marijuana.
I would smoke it, or make cookies with marijuana butter. Then I decided to leave Michigan in 2005 and move to Las Vegas and got a new doctor.
I was in so much chronic back pain and doctor wanted me to try Opana. It was supposed to be a safer version of Oxycontin. Truthfully, I needed to be on a long acting pain med to help me get through the extreme pain. So, I decided I needed to give it a try.
I continued with only Opana, Vicodin and marijuana. But, after 4 years of Opana I was no longer having much relief from the meds. Of course, they would increase my dosage. I was hurting and my spine was getting worse.
Made The Choice To Get Off The Opana
Now, I knew I couldn’t stop cold turkey, but I knew how to wean myself off and use marijuana to get through the withdrawals. With THC/CBD I was able to successfully get off Opana without medical doctors.
Yes I would get the sweats, yes I was irritable, yes I was nauseous. It took me months but I did it. But with all of this, I was still experiencing horrible pain. My hip was hurting, and my legs and feet. But weed helped me get through all this.
About 6-8 months after getting off Opana, I read that it had been pulled off the shelves and would no longer be dispensed due to so many deaths! Yikes!
The Final Turn: I Need Another Fusion to Stop Paralysis
Still, when I got a new MRI the results were heartbreaking. Things had progressed and my L5-S area was diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease. One full disk was fully gone and “Pars defect,” which means my spinal cord actually broke on its own. I was losing my legs, becoming paralyzed. Those parts of my spine control everything waist down. There was no option but to fuse that area and replace the disk with bone and metal.
I had my 3rd fusion June 30 2018. I told my doctor I wanted as little as possible pain medication and would be using marijuana instead. The doctor was shocked, but could understand. Now of course I had to use pain meds, but on day 2 I had the morphine drip removed. I brought vape and edibles with me to use in the hospital.
The hospital wanted to give me a Fentanyl and I told them absolutely not!
Cannabis is my Medicine Now
Now, I’m not completely pain free, but I can manage my chronic back pain better with the help of all medical marijuana products.
In 2016, dispensaries started to pop up in Las Vegas. I got my medical card and was so happy to have all these marijuana options. I would smoke or vape during the day. Marijuana would make my mood better or just help me get through the day-to-day activities better.
Then I started doing much research on different strains. I would use Sativa during the day so it wouldn’t make me sleepy and use an indica for help with sleep. Then I would use edibles because I felt it helped my body pain. I used it all – wax, edibles, flower, concentrate. But then I learned about CBD and terpenes.
I’m using the CBD to help with my anxiety, and to help promote bone growth. Bone growth is essential because that means the fusion will take. There have been recent studies on mice with bone fractures and the mice given CBD heal faster than without. I believe I’m the first human study to see if CBD could promote spine growth.
Legalization is a true game changer. Now, to get insurance companies to cover it will be the next big step. I hope to see that day.
My spine can’t ever be completely fixed, and all I can do is manage my chronic back pain so I can continue to live my life.
Marijuana has helped lift my spirits, and helped me to keep fighting for my health.