I had no idea what to expect. All the training and all the practice, all the role-play scenarios and all the theories were nowhere near the same as the real thing.
I was on call for the first time. I was the primary specialist, which meant if there was an opiate overdose call to 911 within a certain district, I would be deployed to one of the served hospitals as recovery support.
My job was to meet the patient at the hospital. I was to interview them and then see if they were willing to undergo treatment instead of heading back out, just to set up again and find another needle in their vein.
I had acted as a specialist at a different capacity before. Only, that was for a police initiative. That time was different. This was after an arrest. My job was to help create a plan to enter treatment instead of face prosecution without the proper help of getting clean.
However, now that I was on call, this meant I would be deployed to a hospital. This meant emergency room and nurses and doctors scrambling around to save someone’s life.
My shift was overnight, which meant I was on call during the late hours. I figured this would be the busiest time. I heard stories of specialists being deployed several times on one shift. Some nights were quiet. Some nights were busy. To me though, I was unsure which was better.
If it was quiet this meant nobody overdosed in the neighborhood (or at least no one we knew of) but if the night was busy, this meant someone had a chance at being helped.
There was no one else there during these one on one interviews. It was just me and the client. I had no idea what the client would look like, sound like, or act like. I had no idea where they were from or whether they spoke English or another language.
This is where I learned the coldest, hardest, and truest fact about opiate use and addiction—above all, drugs do not care about skin color, social influence, or wealth, nor does opiate use care about age, sex, or race.
I learned the most painfully obvious, yet amazingly overlooked fact that addiction, alcoholism, depression, and mental illness of any kind does not have a common face. Instead, we only have a common problem.
There are people that swear, up and down, that this does not happen in their backyard. I But yet, it does. I have met mothers and fathers of children from great neighborhoods with great lives, and even still, they have found themselves face to face with the tragedies of this epidemic.
I have seen children of parents whose usage began due to the dosage of mishandled pain management programs. I have watched our society become fooled by popular misconceptions, believing the lies of, “That would never be me!” and watched as our shortsightedness created and enforced the social stigmas of mental illness.
More importantly and more often, I see our country become more interested in treating symptoms instead of formulating cures to stop the problems.
I saw this and argued. I bitched and complained until someone in the fight dared me. They said either put up or shut up
So I decided to put up.
I decided to join in the fight. I decided to fight back from every angle necessary—rather than talk, rather than vote or reach out to my local governments and political groups, I joined programs to take action.
In the beginning, I had no clue what I was in for. I had no idea what to expect on my first deployment. I knew what I was supposed to say. I also knew what I was trained to say but when the moment of truth arrived, I had no idea what I was going to say.
I received word of a woman, a mother, overdosed at one of the hospitals. She was dead and brought back to life. They administered Narcan to the client, which reverses the effects of the opiates.
She was just a woman. She was a mother. She looked like a simple, ordinary wonderful human being. I remember her face when she saw me. I remember the look in her eyes when we spoke.
Instead of going with the script, I pulled back and spoke plainly and openly. Unfortunately, she was sick as ever. I held her hair back as she vomited into a bedpan. I escorted her when they brought her up to a hospital room and sat by her side, holding her hand, and listening to whatever it was she had to say.
This was my first deployment. Although I am not part of this team anymore, I will never forget this experience. I will never forget the look in the woman’s eyes and I will always remember the sound of her voice when she and I spoke, months later when she was clean.
I see a lot of people talking about the so-called opiate epidemic. I shake my head sometimes. I imagine the change that would occur in our community if everyone around us joined in the same fight as well.
I saw a fair share of success with this role. I did well but I needed to learn more cold hard and painfully true facts.
Truth is I can see where I went wrong with regards to my own personal care. There were times when I let this role get to me. I have learned from this. I have seen good things and bad things, which I will never forget. Either way, I have made my and kept my word.
I didn’t shut up.
I put up.
And quite honestly the people I have met have changed my life forever