This may sound familiar to my prior post for July. It is. Every encounter with a heroin overdose is the same. Someone drops off somebody else who is "not breathing and turning blue". They are crying and scared to death. The user is indeed, limp, head rolling around, with agonal respirations and cyanosis around the lips. We glove up, run out to the driveway, and dead lift the individual into a wheelchair.
We administer naloxone and magically the person wakes up. They usually wake up angry. They can even be angry that we treated them and ended the high. Once, after I had bagged a 23 yr old for two minutes until the naloxone took effect, the guy wakes up, looks me dead in the eye and said,
"I hope you didn't give me that damn narcan".
His sister who brought him in yelled at him from the foot of the bed and said, "Yes they did! You were dead!".
It was only 5 days until I was involved with another heroin incident. A car whips around the ER entrance and a woman frantically gets out saying her boyfriend isn't breathing. A 10 month old is sound asleep in the back seat. Next to the baby is a 3 yr old girl with giant eyes and tears streaming down her cheeks. She is frozen in fear. Her tears are silent. In the front seat is a twenty something man barely breathing. We shake him and he starts to come around but he is altered, weak, and very unsteady.
"I'm fine. Leave me alone. Take me home". He starts yelling at the girlfriend that it's not big deal and she should have never brought him here. She is terrified to get back in the car with him. Now we have a medical-legal pickle. There are young children in the back seat with an altered and potentially dangerous "father" in the front seat. The mom is actually pretty decent. She is very worried about the safety of her children but equally worried that if she leaves the guy he will head back to his drug friends and will certainly overdose there. The user is refusing care. Mom seems reasonable so we don't really have grounds to call CPS and she does not want the police notified and will not file a report. Hmmm. Now what.
At one point the guy gathered himself enough to actually get into the driver's seat. Security stepped in and the girlfriend grabbed the keys out of the ignition. I made a move for the baby just in case. They got the keys in time. Thankfully, the mom's concern for her children won out and she left the guy on the curb. I had told her that if the four of them were in the vehicle together, the police would be immediately notified. He staggered away.
The look of that little girl's eyes haunts me. I have seen all kinds of trauma but emotional trauma being inflicted on a small child is gut wrenching. They're too little to do anything but trust the grown ups in the room to fix it. Her grown ups were a disaster. The ER grown ups had their hands tied. I had trouble concentrating for a few hours. Did we make the right choice? When will this epidemic end? How do we help these people? Why should we even try?
I started heading deep into the dark place of hopelessness. I began working feverishly on my emotional wall, grabbing every brick of depersonalization and emotional protection that I could find. It is too hard to care about these people. They inflict so much pain and injury. Why should we even try to help. But, the ER never sleeps and patients keep coming in. Four hours into this same shift I was suturing a facial laceration of a twenty something man.
"How did you cut your lip?" I ask.
"I am a group leader for recovering opiate addicts and I was tossing logs to start a campfire" he said. "I'm a recovering opiate addict and I"ve been clean for almost a year. Now I am also a counselor at the long term recovery house that I went through".
That was a ramming rod through my carefully constructed emotional wall. This guy was kind, sensitive, and open. He was brave enough to share his story with me. He had started on the journey to wellness and had turned right around to help people behind him. I shared with him a quote that I love by Brennan Manning. "In love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve". I encouraged him to keep being brave because people who have been healed have the loudest voice in the lives of people who are broken.
Damn it! I wanted to stay mad. I wanted to build my wall, harden my heart, and not be touched by this stupid epidemic anymore. I wanted it to be OK to hate these people and the enablers in their lives. Putting people in boxes and building walls just doesn't work when you are face to face with a fellow human being. When the epidemic becomes a person, compassion overtakes judgement. Love Always Wins.
The following is a passage from Brennan Manning's work, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
“Thornton Wilder’s one-act play “The Angel That Troubled the Waters,” based on John 5:1-4, dramatizes the power of the pool of Bethesda to heal whenever an angel stirred its waters. A physician comes periodically to the pool hoping to be the first in line and longing to be healed of his melancholy. The angel finally appears but blocks the physician just as he is ready to step into the water. The angel tells the physician to draw back, for this moment is not for him. The physician pleads for help in a broken voice, but the angel insists that healing is not intended for him. The dialogue continues—and then comes the prophetic word from the angel: “Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.” Later, the man who enters the pool first and is healed rejoices in his good fortune and turning to the physician says: “Please come with me. It is only an hour to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I do not understand him and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour.… There is also my daughter: since her child died, she sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”13 Christians who remain in hiding continue to live the lie. We deny the reality of our sin. In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. We cling to our bad feelings and beat ourselves with the past when what we should do is let go. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, guilt is an idol. But when we dare to live as forgiven men and women, we join the wounded healers and draw closer to Jesus.”
May we all find strength and bravery to open our wounds to healing.