June 18, 2012 -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student recovering from flesh-eating disease, is pleading for painkillers after surgery to replace swaths of bacteria-ravaged skin and muscle, her father said.
Copeland, 24, was hesitant to take morphine, telling her father she felt like "a traitor to her convictions." But her preferred method of pain management, meditation, proved no match for the sting of skin grafts and muscle flaps to close a gaping wound on her abdomen and groin.
"Aimee is now taking pain medication in as liberal a dose as can be prescribed," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, wrote in a blog post. "If she even dared to refuse taking it, which she wouldn't, then the doctors would most certainly administer it in an IV drip."
It's been nearly seven weeks since Copeland cut open her calf in a fall from a homemade zipline near the Little Tallapoosa River, inviting a flesh-eating infection that claimed her left leg, right foot and hands. Doctors also removed part of her torso, leaving a wound that was dutifully cleaned and covered with sterile bandages in advance of reconstructive surgery Friday.
"During the most recent skin graft, her surgeons were forced to take muscle from Aimee's abdomen to create a flap over the iliac artery in her groin," Andy Copeland wrote. "She says that she feels like a patchwork quilt, because her body is a collection of skin grafts and bandages."
A skin graft transplants a thin patch of skin surgically shaved from elsewhere on the body onto a wound.
"We can get sheets between 10 and 12 thousandths of an inch thick," said Dr. J. Blair Summitt, assistant professor of plastic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "Within two or three days, tiny little blood vessels start to grow into the graft. It's a fairly straightforward procedure."
Straightforward, but not painless. Summitt said narcotic painkillers like morphine and Fentanyl help patients power through the painful reconstructive surgery. But Andy Copeland said no drug is powerful enough to relieve his daughter's pain.
"The allowable doses of Morphine, Fentanyl and Lyrica are often inadequate to deal with the pain that Aimee is now experiencing," he wrote. "Please believe me when I say that Aimee's refusal to use pain medication has ceased following her most recent surgery. She is now requesting it ahead of schedule."
Despite the pain, Copeland's character shone through as she wished her dad a happy Father's Day Sunday.
"Sometimes being a parent is not easy and this is one of those times," Andy Copeland wrote. "I would much rather be the one in that bed. If I could take that pain away from her I would do it in a heartbeat."