The Physician

Me and Matt, trout at Colorado cabin

You may be one of four kinds of people reading this: someone who has never seen an addict (unlikely), someone who knows an addict (most common), someone who is close to an addict (plenty of this kind), or an addict yourself (you’re not alone). I was reading a piece done by a frustrated doctor describing his encounters with addicts in a clinic. It struck me. He was frustrated by these addicts’ apparent predictability and irritating tenaciousness. Outwardly, he or she (not sure) was cold, snobbish, unfeeling. But, once my initial steam condensed I saw the irony and truth there. The little rant reminded me of my encounter with one of Matt’s physicians.

When Matt was deep in his addiction, he would try to get operations. I am not kidding. (Those of you who are close to an addict will not be surprised.) Well, he would go to the emergency room complaining of extreme pain due to a hemorrhoidectomy he had years earlier. He claimed that he was still experiencing extreme pain and needed medication (i.e., oxy-anything). The physicians knew he was not, but what could they do? He just kept coming back, and he would make sure to keep appointments too. He would also tell me of his pain, at which point I would roll my eyes. But, it had worked in the past as he had several unnecessary operations to fix his “problem” over several years. He was quite tenacious and maybe even convinced himself at times, he was that much of a salesman.

The doctor’s story made me consider how physicians might feel, how they deal with these individuals, and how the individuals may feel. You see, Matt told me that he was going to get a colonoscopy bag as the pain was unbearable. (You should know that before this he told me he had cancer too.)  I just thought he was dramatizing for effect and didn’t believe it was in the works. Until I got a call to confirm the surgery check-in time! He had actually talked a doctor into doing it! I was beside myself as to what to do. Just the thought of Matt getting mutilated for more scripts was horrifying.

Therefore, I called the physician and we talked. I was angry and of course threatened a law suit if he went through with it. He explained that he knew Matt had a problem but didn’t know how to deal with his insistence. Short of it: the doctor understood that Matt did have someone who cared enough to call, and he cancelled the operation. Maybe he just needed some support, or maybe he just needed to see that this addict was more than just an irritation factor—a real human with real family. In the end, the doctor agreed to put Matt on a system of emergency room warnings to not prescribe pain meds. Wow, was Matt angry. He vented that I crossed the patient confidentiality clause and had no right. My response, “Hosh posh confidentiality maash. Love you more than some stupid law, kid.”

Well, about a year later he thanked me for doing it as he was clean at that point. He also gave me some insight into the insanity of addiction. Addicts, I now realize, don’t see these physicians as people, they see them as walls or doors. Caught in the secret tomb of Xanadu, below in the dark they just keep pounding their fists on the wall while repeating “Open sesame!” These doctors, being trained as scientists and not always especially socially adept, see the addicts in the same way; they are the baby birds brought into vets, and are of little value compared to the pedigreed dogs nicely leashed by caring owners. The birds have little hope without someone to spend the time with an eye-dropper holding and nurturing them, and they need to triage their caseload. I’m sure vets and doctors alike feel for those that fall out of nests, but really they don’t have the resources to help them, so they are just loud, open beaks. I imagine being bombarded by addicts would wear a person down considerably. I know Matt wore me down during his darkest days.

I complained and nagged and warned and blah, blah, blah. He didn’t hear a thing. Guaranteed. What I had to do in the end for Matt was be more human. I started listening more and asking more questions. I started looking at him less as someone who ‘just needed to straighten up’ and more like someone who just needed to be presented with alternatives, understanding, real help, a real way out of the icy caverns, something that didn’t sound like an unsympathetic response to the real pain he was experiencing—the pain of withdrawal and the fear of a tomorrow without peace.

I am hoping that doctors, friends and loved-ones of addicts, passersby, and those only acquainted with addicts will start to see them as people who have fallen out of the nest and need more than the “Just put it back in its nest and hopefully the mother will return,” sort of approach. I am also wondering why more programs don’t exist to help addicts. Throwing money at keeping drugs out of the country only keeps cops employed. It doesn’t help at all; just ask a cop if he believes the drug-control-effort is helping. Addicts need more than cops. If this doctor that vented about his/her duties had the training and the options, the conversations could go more like this: “Wow, you are in such pain. I can so feel for you. I can help, really. Would you like to go into a program that will give you the drugs you need? I can do that. But, they will continue to help you and not let you get to this point again. Don’t worry; your job will be waiting for you when you are feeling better again.” These addicts know that there are very few willing to do what it takes to have that conversation.

I wonder how many cops’ salaries it would take to put one addict in treatment for a year. Matt’s incarceration costs the state around 40K, not to mention the free lawyer he received and all the court time. After his death a detective worked on the case for six months. Hummm. His funeral costs me 15K and I didn’t pay for the autopsy, the State did. Big Pharma made a good percentage of his script costs—around 500 bucks a month for around seven years. I have no idea how much Middle Eastern drug lords made off him—plenty though. And, just think of the cost of his education. What a waste in capitalistic eyes. More importantly, what a waste of humanity. If you are a capitalist, fine, hopefully you can see that this is ridiculous spending. If you are a physician, hopefully you will one day see past the addiction and consider reaching out to these individuals with compassion. However, if you are a human, even better, hopefully you can see that people of all four kinds might consider looking more at the problem that prescription drug use is costing in souls.

Matt’s mom

6 thoughts on “The Physician

  1. Matts Mom You and I have so many of the same feelings and thoughts about the sons we have lost to opiates. Our sons even seem alike to me. My son, Thomas, died from heroin laced with fentanyl in December 2013. He was 35. Thank you for Matt’s story and your tribute to him and other’s like him. I send my love to you! I also want to share the Bible promises a Resurrection for those in memorial tombs here on earth. Also, there will be no more pain, death, or reason for sorrow here on earth. Rev. 21: 3, 4. I hope to see my son soon. You can research anything on the Bible by going to http://www.jw.org Sincerely, Sheila

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    • Hello Grace,
      Thanks so much for the question. Really made me think. I love your name, by the way. Besides meaning elegance of form and movement, it also means free gift given without merit, without a reason, without a need to pay a debt; it is something that is given in love without that love first being shown by the receiver. God’s gift of everlasting life is grace as no one deserves and no one loves God first, before He loves the sinner. It is His grace that draws us to love Him. Beautiful name.
      That said, I will try to answer your question based on my experience, which is not yours of course, but it may help nonetheless. If you’ve ever had a favorite teacher, best friend, favorite aunt or uncle, or anyone that you are simply drawn to, you already know a part of the answer. I am drawn to those who listen to my conversations with kindness and true compassion. They are always happy to see me and are truly concerned about my well-being. These favorites don’t have kitchen conversations over an oven that is roasting my decisions, failings, and difficulties, like those in this life who sit down to dinner with two main courses–meat and me, both nicely roasted with juices dripping. I am drawn to those who are kind, full of grace. I am repelled and/or guarded around those who are judgmental, full of criticism.
      So, I made a decision (somewhat late in the game) to try and draw my son to me instead of repel him. I saw that what he needed was to be accepted. Once I started accepting him he opened up, sought me out, confided in me, and shared his failings and difficulties in a way that helped us both. This is what I meant by being “more human.”
      The anger you’re feeling is justified, so don’t feel guilty about it. However, you may find that your brother and you get weighed down by the blackness of anger; it sort of eats at a person’s energy. What worked for me was to understand the basis for my anger. I felt robbed of something that I deserved. Not that I didn’t deserve a son that was well, whole, functioning, but it was still based on a payback of sorts, a debt he owed me. Well, he had no savings in his bank of mental awareness to pay that debt. He was broke. How could I expect him to give me something that he couldn’t even give himself? So, I forgave the debt and stopped sending the bills. I approached the situation with grace.
      So, maybe try giving your brother more Grace. He may at first see the white flag as a door to resources, but that isn’t grace, that’s a selfish move intended to make a problem go away, sort of like giving a sucker to a crying child. My son knew that I was not the person to ask for money, for a car, for a room, for even a pack of cigarettes, but he did value that I was the person that laughed at his stories, applauded his efforts, commended his abilities, asked him to speak at funerals, invited his friends over, agreed with his rants, visited him jail, and proudly introduced him to others as my son, not my son the addict.
      I hope this helps; take what you can out of it as every situation is different. This may not work for you, but it did work for me. You’re in my heart and prayers,
      Matt’s mom

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      • Thank you so much for your thoughtful, in depth comment. For years, my relationship with Indy has been “over an oven”. Whenever I came home, I could see him falling apart, him being mean and selfish to my parents and Leila. So I lectured and criticized and called him out all the time. As he enters rehab, I will try to approach him/our relationship differently. Starting over. Sometimes I forget he is a human being. All I see are the bad things staring me right in the face. But I don’t want to perpetuate the “hating” that he may feel every morning when he wakes up. I’m going to try to treat him as my namesake. 🙂

        Thanks again for your posts, comments, etc. You are very kind.
        Yours.

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  2. I agree whole-heartedly that the war on drugs has failed. I blogged about the issue a short while back…have you had a chance to check it out?

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