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.