Joe Putignano is a Cirque du Soleil acrobat that performs death-defying leaps and dangles from a 40-foot-high catwalk. He is an addiction recovery success story, as he has nearly six years of sobriety after a harrowing heroin addiction.
Pushing his body to the limits night after night doesn’t come without a price. Putignano’s shoulder has become so painful that mundane tasks like washing his hair are difficult. After nearly 1,000 performances of “Totem” and a lifetime of gymnastics training, he needs to undergo surgery to repair a superior labral tear in his right shoulder. His biceps tendon is also torn, and he has a third tear in the subscapular area underneath his shoulder blade. His left shoulder, which has more minor injuries, will need to be addressed surgically soon after the right side is repaired.
The surgery needs to preserve Joe’s amazing flexibility, and Joe needs to be concerned about how he manages his pain, so he doesn’t fall back into addiction. Putignano knows that opioid painkillers after surgery can put his sobriety at risk.
“Opiates made me feel like I was the greatest human being possible. Protected, cared for, loved — all internally,” he told CNN. “So I started my path on opiates and abused them, which ultimately lead me to heroin.”
Merging medical needs and addiction recovery needs is an issue many in recovery face when told they need surgery. Putignano is more determined than ever to emerge from the hospital sober. He will use a mix of pre-operative nerve blocks followed by a cocktail of non-abusive medications to reduce swelling, turn down the nerves’ pain signals and reduce his stress-response to pain. To further ensure he doesn’t falter he will attend local recovery meetings before and after surgery and consult with a psychologist to make sure he stays on the right mental path.
This is a solid plan that should serve him well. It is also a positive reminder to others in recovery that the thought of surgery and post-operative pain management may be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. With honesty, clear communication with your doctors and support from the recovery community, you can face pain head on and persevere.
Pain Management and Addiction Recovery at The Oaks at La Paloma
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