Painkillers were not the long term answer. Bill Heitzman only wishes he had come sooner to the pain program at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.
While corralling a four hundred pound steer into a horse trailer in July 2005, William “Bill” Heitzman didn’t get the gate closed quickly enough. The steer turned on him, flipping Bill into the air where he crashed into the trailer’s ceiling. Then the animal tried to gore him several times, slamming into him with bone crushing force. The attack lasted seven long minutes before Bill was able to crawl out and kick the gate shut.
“He busted up my back,” said Bill, who is an experienced animal handler and the physical facilities manager for the Appleatchee Riding Club in Wenatchee. “On a scale of 1-to-10 my pain was a 7 or 8 all the time.”
In November of 2005, Bill had back surgery, but the pain continued and forced him to spend most of his time in bed. “It wasn’t life at all,” he said.
Post-surgery therapy wasn’t enough and what little relief it provided was short lived. He eventually became addicted to the pain medication.
Then, in January 2007, Bill was referred to St. Luke’s Pain Clinic. He was still addicted to the painkillers and a half-hearted participant just going through the motions. After a few days and a medication-related scare, he told his doctor about the addiction and left the Pain Clinic to get clean. With his doctor’s help, he successfully weaned off the medication and returned to the Pain Clinic a few months later, this time as an eager participant.
“When I got back to St. Luke’s they saved my bacon. I got more out of it than I thought I would get,” he said. “They taught me how to do things differently on the job…taught me how to get out of a chair, roll out of bed and slow down.”
St. Luke’s also provided therapy to help with the identity crisis that often accompanies disability related job loss. “I worked all my life, and now I couldn’t work, couldn’t do the things I liked and used to do. We dealt with stuff like that,” Bill said. “I have a different outlook than before.”
Now, Bill doesn’t take painkillers and he is able to manage his pain, keeping it below a 3 or 4 on the pain scale. He also uses techniques he learned at St. Luke’s to prevent more pain, from his posture and how he sits down, to how often he changes positions and how he lifts objects.
“I was so enthused about St. Luke’s, that when I got home I called the Governor’s office,” he said. “I would recommend St. Luke’s to anyone.”