The Time I Enabled an Addict to Shoot Up One More Time

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Let me start by saying this article is not about writing, it’s not about the fiction or stories we all love to read for a cozy escape from reality. It is about that reality. That cold, hard world we live in that sometimes seems to be filled with so much sadness and despair.
I was a fresh-faced 26 year-old nursing student back then. And much younger than I would feel an hour later. I had landed a spot in an ER rotation. Barely able to contain my excitement, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to get in on the bustling action of the busy ER department. I sat in the corner of a small treatment room, listening to the experienced doctors and nurses shouting orders and patient conditions to one another in the hall. Up until this point, my clinical experience had been nothing short of monotonous. Don’t get me wrong, I love skilled nursing. But weeks upon weeks of changing patient’s bed at every nursing home in town was getting old. I was ready to learn some critical care skills.
I sat quietly with a nurse as she carefully sanitized her stethoscope. Quite nervous about what the evening would entail, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to think of a question to ask my mentor. Suddenly, the double doors flung open and slammed against the walls with a forceful bang. Startled, we both immediately stood. In came a stretcher pushed by two paramedics and a line of nurses along with two physicians.
It was a heroine overdose.
The tanned, Hispanic man was transferred to the gurney. Judging from his appearance, I’d say he was in his mid-thirties. The physician immediately intubated him and then handed me the bag, to force air into his lungs.
“I’ve never even done CPR before!” I protested in panic.
“Just squeeze,” he replied, giving me encouragement. “Squeeze. Count to three. Squeeze again.”
My hands shook. I was ready for excitement, but not this. How could I do this? I wasn’t experienced like everyone around me. What if I screwed up?
I didn’t have time to think anymore. So, I did as instructed. Deep breath. Squeeze. One, two, three. Squeeze again.
Before I knew it, he was on a ventilator and I was able to take a step back. Unsure of what other drugs he’d ingested, the physician ordered the nurse to administer a medication that would counteract any central nervous system depressants. Along with that, he was also given an antidote to Tylenol poisoning and Narcan. This was before Narcan was readily available to paramedics.
The medication stimulated him to wake. In a state of hysteria, he shot straight up, flailed his arms about, and tried to rip the tube out of his throat. Next, he grabbed at the IVs that were saving his life. While one nurse began to administer a sedative, I did as I was told and straddled his chest in an effort to hold him down so another nurse could push an NG tube up his nose and down his throat. He fought it. His body fought it. Blood and vomit spurted from his nose all over my scrubs, but I didn’t move.
It was the most horrific sight I had ever witnessed. And just as quickly as they came rushing into that room, it was over. The patient passed out. He stabilized and all became eerily quiet.
I couldn’t believe what I had just seen, what I been a part of.
As the crew began to straighten up the room and leave, I heard a doctor mumble in the background.
“Saved another one. He’ll be back.”
And he was right, more often than not, addicts relapse.
I washed my hands and left the room. My mind raced with all I had just learned while a part of me questioned whether it was all worth it. After all, if he is just going to use again, what’s the point? I just helped a junkie survive to shoot up again.
I walked into the hallway to find a young 3 or 4 year-old by sitting on the floor near the door. His grandmother stood next to him, leaning against the cold wall.

He asked her, “Is my daddy going to be alright?”
She didn’t answer.
I walked away.
Heading to the locker room in search of a clean scrub top, I realized something that made me understand life a little better than before.
I enabled a drug addict to use again.
I also enabled him to love again.
That boy would be able to hug his father again. That mother would be able to speak with her son again. There would be no funeral, not that week anyway.
A second chance may have come to the addict that night, but it came to his entire family as well. And each is as deserving as the other for that second chance.

I find it very discouraging to see so many speaking out against the public availability of Narcan. Have we ourselves never needed a second chance? What is the alternative? Death? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but death never taught anyone a lesson. The addict can’t come back from that and say- you know what? You were right!
The addict might use again. Or, he might not.
When it comes to the debate on public availability of Narcan, let’s focus on the might not, because at the end of the day, I bet that boy and that man were grateful for their second chance.
This may not be a work of fiction, but I still feel like it’s appropriate to share it on my blog. What are stories, if not real? Even when they’re made up. I think I can include this real-life experience with all my other hopeful stories, for the modern world.

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3 thoughts on “The Time I Enabled an Addict to Shoot Up One More Time

  1. Karen says:

    Andy, this is such a powerful, insightful story. I appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek into your ER experience. It is so easy to judge a profession from the outside. I’ve been a teacher for 23 years, my husband a law enforcement officer for 30. Both of our professions are often criticized by people who are quick to make judgments without having all the details–or experiencing the things we experience…in real life…not on TV. Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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