The hardest thing to see are the parents. The hardest thing to do is deliver the news, which of course, we all know can be devastating. I think of them. I think of the parents and the way they were the day their child was born. I assume they had dreams for their child and the look of amazement in their eyes. I think of the typical hopes they must have had and the ideas they had as parents. I am sure there’s an entire list of imaginations and fantasies. Meanwhile, a newborn child is brought into the world swaddled in a blanket.
The hardest thing was to walk over to a family whose first language was not English and try to explain what happened to their youngest son. To this day, I can recall my first fatality in an emergency room. The young man had gone too long and though he was reversed from the opiates, the reversal was too late. He was brain dead.
He was on a machine which was breathing for him but otherwise, there was nothing left. One by one, more of the young man’s family showed up to the emergency room. The waiting room was filled with his family. I wonder if the young man truly understood how much love and care was behind him. Did he know how valuable he was? Did he understand how important his life was?
But then again, all the love in the world and all the support, all the care and literally everyone can be on your side; in fact, God the Father could come down from heaven but addiction is addiction. Drugs are drugs and in this case, whether the young man was new to the tribe or experienced with the trade, the drug turned on him.
He was only a senior in high school. There was talk about him going to a big school. There were great plans for him. Either way, regardless of the plan or whether the young man was happy or sad, everything was canceled by an overdose.
Upon arrival, the head nurse asked, “Why did they send you?”
“They deployed me when the O.D. came over the 911.”
The nurse looked at me, almost matter of factly.
“He’s done,” said the nurse. “He’s gone.”
I spoke with a few of the family members. They asked what could be done. They asked how this could happen. Of course, nobody expects this in their home. No one thinks this can ever happen to them. I have heard “Not in my house” and “Not in my backyard” for decades. But this happens in all houses and in all backyards.
The Mother approached me. She did not know how to speak English but she did know one word. She approached me with that word.
The word was “Why?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
And maybe I don’t know. Or maybe I do know and the short answer is simple but painful. Of course, I understand the physical reason why. I know what the opiates do. The body shuts down. I understand the physicality. But to ask why has nothing to do with the physical or logical nature of what’s happening. Logic has nothing to do with this question.
One of the most common things I’ve seen is parents or wives, husbands, loved ones or anyone who deeply loves or cares for a person and meanwhile, they watch the person they love slowly (or quickly) self-destruct. And somehow, there’s a wonder. Aren’t I enough? Isn’t my love enough to help you change the way you live?
“You’re killing yourself and me! Don’t you even care?”
This is a common one.
Doesn’t my help and my care mean anything? But again, substance use disorder is still the same. Alcohol abuse is still alcohol abuse. And it hurts. It sucks.
It kills the entire family.
I can still see the vision in my head of the night I was deployed to the hospital. I can see him, lifeless, on a gurney. The sheet was covering part of his body but one foot was uncovered. The family decided not to give up hope. They were executing a miracle. They were sure that a miracle was possible. They were planning on sending him to another hospital but the head nurse approached me like a soldier and, God, I admired this nurse.
The nurse looked at me very sternly but understandingly and said, “Benny, I don’t care where they send him. He’s gone.” And then the nurse assured me, “But you did your job. Now, go home and get some rest. The night is young and someone else might need you again.”
The war is long and far from over. That’s what the nurse was telling me.
When I said my goodbyes, I pulled the sheet over the young man’s uncovered foot. The family noticed this and looked at me.
“I don’t want him to be cold,” I said, because whether there was hope or not, who am I to take hope away from anybody?
This was a person.
I don’t care how wealthy or poor, what color skin they have or where they came from, this was a young man with his family around him. No matter what I said or how I answered the question “Why,” there is nothing in the world more unnatural than a parent burying their child. I know this.
I do not dance with the lies nor doctor the truth. I know that nobody expects this. No parent in the delivery room who holds their child for the very first time looks down at the beauty of life and plans for this to happen.
Meanwhile, the year 2021 has claimed 100,000 fatal overdoses (28.5% higher than 2020). Imagine the numbers that would be if we knew the truth. Think about the deaths that went unreported or compound this with the overdoses who survived and then truly look at the numbers, astounding and sad. Still the numbers are on the way up. What does this mean?
What does this say?
Drugs are merely a symptom. . .
I know that this is hard to accept. I understand that we want to find accountability. We want to blame someone or something; but still, drugs are a symptom. Alcohol is a symptom. And sadly, suicide is a symptom.
Did you know there’s a suicide achieved every 40 seconds throughout the world? Imagine what the numbers must be if we added the attempts. Imagine if we knew the real numbers? And still, I am telling you this is a symptom.
This is only part of the problem. There is an underlying beast within. There is a voice. There is a sense of pain and anguish, desperation and hopelessness. There is an internal narrative that whispers louder than any scream you can think of. And it’s right here (in the mind).
I do not claim to know it all. I do not claim to have the answers nor do I claim to know the only way to recover. All I know is that we have awareness programs. We have all the information we need. We have different services at our disposal. We have education. We have family and even if we don’t have family, we have the capacity to seek help (if we choose it).
I remember it was Christmas Eve, I responded to one of my last deployments. She was a young woman and she was in there too. Still spritely, still reachable. Homeless and in need of help. No one else showed up for her at the hospital.
“Who are you,” she asked.
We talked for a while. I told her a few of my stories. We talked about life. She told me how it had been a long time since she saw her family. She ran away. She hit the streets.
I don’t know what a real miracle is, let alone a Christmas miracle . . .
But I think I saw a glimpse of it that night. And so it was that on Christmas Eve, two people sat and spoke and thought and planned. And so it was, a child was heard from and a mother was comforted that her daughter was okay.
I had a system, a routine if you will. I would process the deployments after they were done. I would sit in my car. I allowed myself to feel, think, scream, cry or whatever. Most times, it was all the above.
Who am I?
Who is anyone?
Here we are in the middle of a historic time, a new era, a new becoming. And what does this mean? What are we becoming?
And of course, why?
The truth is I don’t know.
All I can do is be, think, do and create.
That nurse set me straight though, which is why I will do what she said. I think we all should get some rest. Someone out there might need us. And when they do, we have to be ready.
Imagine how helpful we would be if we all worked together?