SJR, my nephew, died at 47. He and I shared this disease: the disease of addiction. This is a tribute to him. This is a tribute to all who have addiction and endure the rotten behavior and insults that others throw their way. The others I have in mind are civilized folk, in most respects. They are folk whose lives are not directly affected by their targets for abuse. They are not family or friends. They are not employers of these suffering souls with addiction.
It is understandable that families, friends, and employers get frustrated by the poor choices that persons with addiction inevitably make: choices that ultimately erode their health and shorten their lives. So our families have earned the right to be upset with us, even if they do not understand the disease we have.
No. The folk I have in mind stand to profit from the harm that addiction does to those who have it. They are caretakers, first line medical staff. I have to admire the alcoholic in withdrawal who sits on his or her hands when a nurse or doctor lectures, berates, and gives rough handling while providing some palliative for the illness that happened to bring the person to the Emergency Department for care. I have a lot of contempt for those abusive folk.
Remember, I told a story in this blog about the male nurse who told my 98 pound Mickey to sit still while he inserted an IV. She was shaking because that’s what folks do in withdrawal. When I finished signing her in and caught up with her, it was late at night on the unit where she would be treated. I had to bully my way past a bunch of administrators to tell her “goodbye” and that I would see her in the morning. She was crying pitifully. That nurse had smacked her because she couldn’t be still. And hospital staff had rushed her away to prevent a scene by me. To their credit, they sent the nurse home right away.
60% of Emergency Room (ER) admissions suffer from some alcohol or other drug accident or illness when we arrive for help. As much as half of the business done by the medical community is generated by the various drug problems visited upon our citizens. That same medical community is in such a hurry for the next clinic fee that it quickly prescribes pills when a short conversation might suggest some other treatment. I won’t deny that some of us go out of our heads–pursued by the demons of withdrawal and hallucinations–and strike out rashly at some of our helpers. I will say that never have I been so rash with such brother or sister sufferer that I provoked that response.
Acknowledging a sufferer’s pain has a greater palliative effect, in most cases, than the prescribed meds. I have seen many a nurse or physician curl their lip and summon “security” at the first sign that a drug-affected patient might be a bit riled. “Safety first” is good policy when applied appropriately. I watched an admissions nurse who was so rattled that she had security stand next to the patient before she would process him. She insisted that he, and not I, answer her questions. He began drunkenly mooning over what a beautiful and kind angel she was–mistaking her angry insistence that we do her bidding, for urgent concern. “it’s all right, honey…” “I am not your honey, I need you to sign this paper.,,Security!” I had transported him to the ER and did not want to see him go to jail, so I hurriedly had a little conference with him about “Just answer ‘yes or no’ and tell me what to tell the nurse.”
That worked pretty well until he got a better look at the nurse: “Hell, she ain’t that good looking after all.” I nearly lost it, except that I saw the guard get a mean look in his eye. I cautioned my buddy to keep his mind on the business at hand. I caught that nurse on break a little later and apologized to her, and thanked her, and said, “I have a hunch that somewhere in your life, some drunk has run over you.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “My daddy…” and stopped. I nodded and reminded her that we professionals have to remember what we know, when we remember what we can’t forget. We sometimes can’t forget old harms done us; but we may not transfer our anger to others just because they have the illness.
The week before last, my nephew had himself hospitalized after finding himself unable to go to work because of the pain. A hard drinking man, he rarely missed work, making sure that his work shone well enough that bosses would have to overlook what was in his coffee thermos. Finally, pancreatic pain was so intense that he had himself admitted to the hospital, complaining of gut pain. They saw a drunk in withdrawal, and treated him for withdrawal. Finally, after nearly a week where he lay racked in pain, the treating physician looked deeper and ran him to surgery where they removed his pancreas, gall bladder, stomach and parts of his upper and lower intestine.
His pancreas had ruptured and damaged all of those organs. Thinking he was just another drunk, medical folk used that impression to tell his family about his ‘critical’ condition. My nephew’s last conscious choice turned out to be the worst he ever made: he trusted medical folk to listen to him as he described where it hurt. He could have gotten the pills they gave him anywhere. He sure as hell didn’t have to go to the hospital for them.
SJR wasn’t a saint. He was a beloved brother, son, nephew, daddy, and a working man. He had a pretty tough row to hoe in life. He never laid down his hoe. He lived with the disease as best he could. He was young and thought he had more time. He and I get a pass for the using part of our past: God loves drunks and children. When actively using, our brains are hijacked. Even drug free, that disease controls many of our choices and behaviors. As for children, children just don’t know any better. Ohh…that smile of his…. Requiescat in Pace.