ATLANTA - Waiting outside the operating room at the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center, Scott Cohen is ready. He knows he could soon be free of the pain that has dogged him for more than a decade.
"I'm going to have my life back," he says.
Cohen says he hasn’t had much of a life at all for the last few years because of severe pain.
"I'm going to hopefully be able to get a job again, to lead a normal life,” he says. "To not have to take morphine first thing in the morning to get through the day, I can't wait for that."
Cohen joined the Navy in 1999 and began a series of deployments..
"I served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa,” he says.
But, during a training exercise, Cohen shattered his ankle
"The first time, I got run over by a vehicle,” he says. “They did reconstructive surgery."
Then, he re-injured the same ankle again, and again, undergoing 3 reconstructive operations, the last in 2012.
"From the surgery they had me on Dilaudid, then oxycodone, and then they tried to wean me off,” he says. “But I eventually have to go back on."
Medically-discharged from the Navy, Cohen says his pain was so severe, he needed morphine each morning just to function. He couldn’t work. He rarely left the home where he lived with his fiancé.
"I was high as a kite all the time, I couldn't do anything,” he says. “I was stoned 24/7."
That's when he met Atlanta V-A interventional pain physician, Dr. Anna Woodbury.
"I love being able to take away people's pain,” she says. “Especially our veterans’."
Dr. Woodbury is part of a Veterans Administration-wide movement to find new ways to treat pain in veterans, while reducing reliance on prescription painkillers knowns as opioids.
"There have been so many adverse outcomes with them,” Dr. Woodbury says. “Because opioids, if you take too much of them, even unintentionally, just trying to treat your pain, you can end up dying from it."
Woodbury examined Cohen, who had not just chronic, throbbing pain, but inflammation doctors though might be the result of an autoimmune disorder.
"She said, "I know exactly what you have,” Cohen remembers.
Woodbury diagnosed Cohen with rare type of chronic pain known as "complex regional pain syndrome." It often occurs after an injury, or surgery.
After nerve blocks and implanting a temporary spinal cord stimulator helped, Cohen returned to the VA Medical Center to have a permanent stimulator implanted just under his skin.
It's like pacemaker for pain, using a small electrical current to disrupt the abnormal nerve to Cohen’s brain.
Just 9 days later after his surgery, Cohen feels much better.
"No more narcotics,” he says.
The pain is gone.
"I don't have to worry about overdoing,” he says. “I don't have to worry about addiction problems."
Scott Cohen feels like he can, finally, get on with living his life.
"It was an emotional experience,” he says. “To me, Dr. Woodbury is like a hero. She's literally changed my life."