“Let’s just ban Narcan altogether,” I once heard someone say; “we should just let Darwin do his thing and let all the junkies die off.”
“Junkie.” What an ugly word that is. It brings to mind a dirty emaciated human being, maybe resembling Christian Bale from The Fighter a few years back. They might be wearing tattered Salvation Army clothes. Maybe they live in one of the countless tent cities that stud towns like Brockton and Lowell like pimples on a high school freshman. Worthless, disposable, leeching off our precious taxpayer dollars…a junkie.
This concept, above all others, pisses me off the most about the avalanche of cheap heroin flooding the Northeast. You cannot reduce a person to this level. Yes, actions have consequences. Yes, the only way for an addict to begin recovery is for themselves to be ready to tackle their habit.
And in my time working in a downtown ER in a city that has been in an opiate-induced chokehold for the last few years, I’ve met my fair share of unrepentant addicts. The ones who yell and scream because the Narcan ruined their high. The ones who try and hustle doctors into prescribing them a bottle of Percocet. I’ve even had one patient laugh in my face and tell me that he can OD as many times as he wants and we’ll just keep bringing him back for free.
And when I first started out, I was the most cynical jerk you’d ever meet. I’d rail on and on about how my time was being wasted “saving people from their own stupidity.” I’d grouse about how my less-equipped ER was “cleaning up after the riff-raff” as opposed the more state-of-the-art hospitals in the area. While they dealt with trauma patients and life or death situations, I was holding a basin under someone’s chin as the post-Narcan vomiting set in. They had all of the challenging cases while I was handling overdose after overdose, kowtowing to “those junkies.”
Then one night, a call came in from one of our paramedic trucks. They were bringing in a young man in his 20’s, a victim of a heroin overdose that a friend had found too late. When he passed through the ambulance bay doors he was unresponsive, had a breathing tube down his throat and surrounded swarm of EMTs and paramedics. His face was blue, his skin the color of your fingernails when you squeeze them. We set him up in our trauma bay and went to work transferring him onto a stretcher, hooking him up to our monitor and ventilator, and furiously pounding on this kid’s chest hoping against hope to see some blips on the heart monitor.
Then his father walked in.I’ve never seen more anguish and sadness in a person’s face before or since. I’ve been present for many deaths in the ER, and seeing the family is often the worst part. You do your best, cleaning the patient up, turning town the lights, bringing the family a box of tissues or offering them some water.
But none of that happened – we all were giving 110% trying to bring him back. I was performing CPR with my partner when he walked in, and I wish I’d never looked up. I watched him lay eyes on his son, with wires and tubes in every orifice and a faint trail of blood-tinged froth running up the ventilator hose. He ran over to the side of the bed, his face awash in tears, grabbing his little boy’s hand.
Amidst the clamor of ringing monitors, the puffing of the ventilator and the calls by the doctor to give doses of this or that drug, I heard the father quietly whispering to his son “Come on, ______. Just wake up please. You can do it.” I could tell he’d been preparing for this. I could see it in his eyes that what he had pictured this scenario a thousand times. And that’s what killed me the most.
This is what those would-be evolutionists are calling for. Having someone’s loved one die.
Even typing these words makes my eyes well up a little bit. I know that working in an environment so rife with sadness. I need to be able to detach and push through, and I certainly have. But I’ll be forever haunted by what I saw that night. Occasionally I dream about it, dropping right back into that trauma bay, every detail permanently scorched into my memory.
But there is an upside to all this – I will never call someone a “junkie. I’ll never write a person off because they made a bad choice in life.
“Junkie.” It’s this word that keeps people from seeking detox. “Junkie.” It’s this word that can make even the most compassionate and seasoned professional roll their eyes and mentally tune out. “Junkie.” It’s this word that keeps kids from confessing to their parents that they have a problem.
“Junkie.” This word kills people just as much as the needle itself.
So if you ever want to reduce someone’s kid, someone’s dad, someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend to “a worthless junkie,” you’d better say it out of earshot of me. Because if you don’t, you’re gonna have to deal with me. And I promise you I’ll go as easy on you as you go on them.
~ Anonymous ~