I have heard the sound of desperateness. I have spoken on its behalf in my own terms and I have seen the lost and misplaced look in the eyes of tragic souls, hoping for something to come along and give them hope. I have had lengthy discussions about the idea of hopelessness, and, as well, I have listened as friends of mine and strangers too, looking for a reason to change their plans and regain their former life.
One of the challenges I took was to become a responder to an opiate overdose recovery program. My position was a specialist on call.
While on duty, I was on standby until dispatch would deploy me upon emergency. They would alert me of the overdose. Then I would go to one of the hospitals that accepted the service.
The service was a resource, and as one of the advocates on call, I would sit at the bedside of the patient that overdosed. Our goal was to offer the clients a plan instead of just another discharge and a return to the same life that almost killed them.
There is training for this. However, nothing trains for this the way experience does. I had no idea who I would see, what the patient would look like, or if they would be conscious, or sadly; would they even be alive?
I had no idea if they would accept our services, which, oftentimes, the patient would not.
I saw sad things while on call. I only had one deployment that was brain dead on arrival. This was a young man. In most cases, the patient was usually alone or at best, maybe there was one of two other people in the emergency room.
On this night, however, the young man was accompanied by his entire family. He was found in his bedroom after his accidental overdose.
The client’s parents did not speak English very well. His brother was there to interpret but he was broken by the loss.
The head nurse pulled me to the side before I went in. She asked why they deployed me. I explained that we are always deployed as soon as the call comes to 911.
“But he’s gone,” she told me.
“There’s nothing anyone can do for him now,” she said.
“I still have a job to do,” I told the nurse, which she understood, but there were other matters that needed her attention.
Now, it is true. I could have filled out my paperwork and left. I could have said my few thoughts to the family and went home.
Instead, I sat with the young man’s older brother. I say “Older” but he was maybe 20 or 21 years-old, which meant his little brother that lay in the bed was even younger.
And of course, the youngster had a bright future ahead of him. He came from a close, loving, wealthy family. He was raised and supported throughout his life. He had everything he needed but still, regardless to his advantages, Mom still found him in his room, lifeless, with foam at his mouth.
He was a good looking kid. He had everything, but I suppose whatever he had was not enough to settle the internal void.
The longer I stayed, the more family arrived. And they wanted to know why this happened. They wanted to know how this happened. Even the mother asked me, “Why?” and the truth is, I don’t know.
Of course, I know how. I know what happened. I know what the young man was doing and I understood why he was doing what he did. I used to get high too.
I understand why this happened from a medical perspective. I know the lethal dose of fentanyl told his brain to shut down and his body to stop breathing.
I know why there was a chemical reaction but I cannot say why this happens or why we go through this. I don’t know why some people live and others die. I do not know why our society is warned and yet, countless people still march towards their death like a moth to a flame.
I don’t know whether there is an answer to this or not. All I know is that no answer would ever explain the unnatural event of a parent burying their child. And no answer could or would ever satisfy a loved one as the casket of their family or friend lowers beneath ground.
I stayed at the hospital for a while and lent my support to the family. The nurse pulled me to the side. She told me the family is trying to have the young man transported to another hospital.
Then she told me, “They can transport him to wherever they want. But he’s gone.”
She was not cruel about this. She was simply explaining facts. I decided it was time for me to leave after I finished my paperwork, but before I left, I wanted to go to the young man. He was lying in the bed, face up, with a machine keeping him alive. His right foot was uncovered by the blanket and tilted off to the side, lifelessly, and sadly in a way that showed his body was nothing more than an empty shell.
I approached the mother. She hugged me. I said my farewell to the young man and before I left, I pulled the cover over his uncovered foot.
I looked at the mother as said, “I don’t want him to get cold.”
I said this to comfort the family’s hope. I cannot say whether I did this the right way or the wrong way. Instead, I did this the only human way I could think of because before anything, this young man is and was a person. Rather than treat him as a stigma or as a statistic; I treated the youngster like a person, which was considerably different than some of the staff with their endless stream of questions.
I have seen the lost look in the eyes of hopeless people, just wishing they could get out of their own way and find some kind of purpose. I have seen the unfortunate surrender in those that choose to give way to the irretrievable submission and submit to their own demise.
I have sat with people that looked to shove a final solution into their veins, only to wake up and be revived by an opioid reversal, which we call Narcan.
I have met with people that have overdosed once, twice, three times, and even several times more. And yet, no matter how close they’ve come to dying, they still push through, always looking for some kind of peace; always hoping to come out on the other side, absolved, and whole, but yet the nature of the beast never promises a long-term benefit. It’s just a short term high. That’s all. I have met and sat with people that knew there was another way, but yet, there was no other way for them.
I have seen people choose homelessness over housing and go off in the dead of winter to the streets that eventually killed them. I have watched families separate. I have seen the nature of the beast kill more than just the addict and take away the spirit of an entire family.
I have watched good people subject themselves to this version of lifelessness. And together, we have talked about life. We talked about the way things were “Before” and what life was like before drugs overwhelmed the big picture.
We talked about the way we think and the way we feel. We talked about dreams, regardless to whether they were distant or unreal. We talked about everything; however, the last thing we talked about is the drug itself.
The high is only a symptom. The drug use is an action. This is a response to a thought, feeling, a want, or a need.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned about behavior is that everything we do is done to honor a need, a thought, a feeling, or a desire. In which case, the action is secondary and the reasoning is primary.
We need to deal with the reasoning. Not the symptom. We need a touch of humanity. We need to realize that treating the stigma does not stop the problem. There is no one size fits all method that works for everyone.
The best call I’ve ever received was a call from a friend. He came out of jail and followed through with his own program. We speak regularly. He is clean and with his family. Our relationship is based on a commonality but yet, neither he nor I compare our lives.
Something he told me stays with me and comforts me when I hear the sad news of another life lost.
He told me, “Don’t ever think your words don’t matter.”
I think about this sometimes. I think about the old saying. “When the student’s ready, the teacher appears.”
We’re all learning. So it’s we teach each other because it just might save a life. I know this because my friend Jay told me so.
Score one for the good guys—