I’ve Been Trying to Avoid Pain Medications

Ken Noskye

The opioid epidemic, which has taken too many lives, is now creating another crisis. For the last 10 years, I have been battling Crohn’s disease, stomach cancer and an enlarged liver. 

During that decade I have stayed away from pain medication. I recognized a long time ago that if I am going to take this on, I have to take an approach other than running to ease the pain with pharmaceuticals.

I spent two years in hospitals, mostly in Saskatoon, and in that time I watched other people with similar medical problems die. I noticed pain medication was so accessible, some died from over-medicating. Others died from suicide because the pain was too much to bear, and some from their bodies simply shutting down.

For most of my life, I travelled the Red Road. In the traditions of many First Nations, we have many roads, the directions people choose to take in life. 

The Red Road is where people attend traditional ceremonies such as the Sun Dance, sacred sweat lodge and others where people are taught how to control their breath, their heartbeats and even their blood flow. 

This is all done with an awareness of how much pain a person can endure. After a while, pain becomes irrelevant because seeking a higher power is the goal. For some people, it is too much and they drop out. 

These ceremonies are not exclusive to First Nations people, because I have danced with people from Sweden, Germany, Japan and many other parts of the world.

They would come to challenge themselves and their bodies. When I started to get sick, I decided to take my training and take on the pain. 

During my stays in hospitals, I stopped all the pain medication I was prescribed, unbeknownst to my doctors. 

After several months of going without pain medication, I started to heal. One medical specialist asked me what I was doing. My response was what I was not doing. I was secretly saving all the medication I was prescribed. 

I took a bread bag of the medication and gave it to her. She still has that bag in full view in her office to show others what can be done without pain medication.

Today, I continue to go without medication, although every now and then the body can only take so much pain. That’s when I will go to a hospital and spend a night there.

It is only under medical care that I will turn to pain medication. I will not take anything home. 

Lately, it’s getting harder and harder to address the pain. One doctor prescribed only extra-strength Tylenol after he examined me and reviewed my file. 

One doctor told me about a chief in Ottawa who blames doctors for killing Indigenous people by over-prescribing. The doctor refused to prescribe me anything, even though I was in a hospital and under medical care. He expected me to tough it out.

The medical community is now walking a fine line. Opioid overdoses are affecting those who need the medication. 

I feel for those who must now live a life of horrible pain because doctors are scared of being blamed. I feel for those with cancer because they all they might get is extra-strength Tylenol.

They will die screaming because some chief in Ottawa is shooting off his mouth without seeing the other side.