I can remember the smell in the room. I remember the family. I remember their faces. I can remember the emptiness and the cold silence. The Mother was shaken.
She had a look of disbelief on her face. Shocked, as if she could not believe something like this happened in her house, right under her nose, without even knowing.
I can remember the deployment call, which was not unlike any other deployment call. The information is brief and simple. I am told the client’s name, if there is one. I am told which emergency room the client is in and whatever details are given about the overdose.
I remember the nurse asking me why I was at the hospital. And when I explained, the nurse shook her head at me. “He’s gone,” she said.
This was my first overdose fatality as a specialist.
I had lost clients before. Hell, I lost friends before but this was different. I was certainly no stranger to overdoses or deaths to the street culture. But again, this was different to me. I can remember the faces of the family members which poured in for the family emergency. More often in my experience, the client is either alone or in the company of one or maybe two people.
This case was different. The young man that overdosed was exactly that. He was a young man. He was someone from the local neighborhood. He was liked. He was popular. He was one of the “Cool” kids. He came from a wealthy home with a good, strong family. I saw his family come in, one by one, each of them heartbroken and one of them about to break up the sitting room.
No one could believe this happened. It must have been an accident. It couldn’t have been that he had a problem. I hear this all the time. Another question I hear is “Why?”
Why did this happen to my child?
I have been asked this question before. However, I had never been asked this question while standing in the emergency room of a hospital. There was a young man, lifelessly on a gurney with a machine breathing for him. His mother’s English was poor but her question was painfully simple. She looked at me, pleading with all the love she had and, with tears in her eyes, she asked me, “Why?”
She looked at me the same as she looked at anyone in the hospital. She was looking for help. She wanted answers. She wanted something. She wanted anything that would bring her boy back to life.
There is no answer. At least, there is no answer that can satisfy the broken heart of a grieving mother as she stood next to her son.
I wish I could have answered. I wish I could have said something that made sense. I know a few things though. I knew this was not the time for a medical conversation to explain what opiates do and why people die. This is not the time to talk about addiction or substance abuse disorders. No. There is no answer sufficient enough to explain this.
I remember a Christmas Eve when I learned about a friend of mine that lost his fight with the needle. I grew up with him. People loved him. People adored him, including his daughter who was nine at the time of my friend’s death.
I can remember my first call as a specialist. I can remember the way my client looked at me. I can remember thinking “This person was dead just a few minutes ago. And now they were alive.”
I can remember seeing clients that would deny they had an overdose. They said it wasn’t possible. And yet, they were in the hospital with monitors tied to them. They received a lifesaving dose of Narcan, which reverses the opiates that tell the body to shut down and stop breathing.
Narcan is somewhat new but heroin isn’t. Overdoses are not new. I know this because I have been around for a while. I have been on both sides of the recovery conversation. I’ve watched young kids lose their way and find themselves in an early grave. Yet still, people think this problem is new. It’s not new.
I hear people tell me, “You should just let them go.”
I hear people say, “Just let’em kill themselves!”
I hear this and shake my head.
In fact, I had a conversation with someone yesterday. And it was enough to make me heated. It was enough to make me angry. It was also enough to make me realize that we are all still so ignorant and blind. There is no specific person. There is no rhyme or reason why or who.
Back when I was doing deployments, I saw people from every background, every religion, color, sexual preference and personality. I saw this impact the wealthy and poor, the so-called good looking and the otherwise.
I have a drawing near my desk at home. This is a drawing that was drawn of me while I was giving a class at a nearby county jail. The drawing is signed “Rich.”
I keep this drawing near me because Rich is gone now.
I swear, this is a lonely feeling. I swear sometimes, I see people on the frontlines in this fight and I grow angry because people fight amongst themselves about the popularity contest, who is right and who is wrong. Who knows more? Who has a better program? I see the public sector and the not-for-profits arguing over their share of coverage to prove their worth and get their grants. Meanwhile, there’s a war out there.
(Does anybody else see this?)
I see there are people out there, wondering if there is something or someone that can help them. The answer is yes. There is always help. The question isn’t about the help.
The question is how can we make the help more available, relatable and understandable. There is more than one pathway towards recovery. And rather than preach or say “This way is the only way,” how about we find a way that works for someone as an individual.
Rather than chastise and shame, how can we encourage and empower?
Think about this.
Since we are a “What’s in it for me” kind of people, how can we translate this in a way to give life a new value.
Show someone a new value and give someone hope and perhaps we can save a life.
Maybe . . .
Someone told me, “If you can save at least one person, it’d be worth it.”
Tell this to the 81,000 families that lost someone to an overdose in the last 12 months.
Dear Universe, (or to whom this may concern):
It’s pretty lonely out here. Please help me find my way. What I see is sad.
I just want to be helpful and pay what I owe.
I just want to repay the kindness that was shown to me.
I swear, that’s all . . .