If you are looking to start your week with a smile, you may want to skip this post today as the topic is quite dark and depressing.
I received the news this past weekend that a former high school boyfriend of mine had passed away last month. We were quite close for a time, he was someone that I could have spent my whole life with. Although I haven't seen or heard from him in 25 years, I am quite shook up about the news, mainly because of the cause of his death. Terry died from a prescription drug overdose, and the newspaper account made it sound as if his death was quite horrific. He was a drug user when I knew him and I guess you always imagine and hope that people grow out of their childhood wildness and mellow as the years pass. I was so sad to hear that he didn't. He was an only child with a very small extended family. He never married and had no children. I can imagine that his life must have been very lonely and difficult and included much time imprisoned in jail. I am sure that he was the cause of much of that difficulty from his wild lifestyle, but it seems to me that people who turn to drugs for entertainment or comfort are looking for some sort of pain relief, and once they are hooked it is extremely difficult to turn back.
I have spent too much time in my life complaining that I can't feel the presence of God and wondering if he truly loves me. When I heard about Terry's tragic death and thought about what my life might have been like had he been the one I married, I shudder and realize that God has been with me, loving me and protecting me every single moment of my life. I have a wonderful, fabulous, stable husband and five gorgeous, terrific children. I have a good job, a decent home and most of all, a faith that will endure forever. I am blessed beyond belief. But at the same time, I am saddened that there are so many in this world who haven't been blessed with wonderful gifts from God, or maybe who have rejected those gifts in favor of the pleasures of the world, which really aren't very pleasurable at all. Worldly pleasures only last a short time, but the gifts of God are forever.
I don't think that Terry had any sort of faith background and probably doesn't have any one to pray for his soul, so I will certainly be praying for him. His tragic death reminded me of a client I met last summer at the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Clinic where I work, so I am re-posting her story which I originally ran on June 1st. As always, my stories about the clients at work have fictitious names.
It seems the news is frequently filled with stories of young people dying from drug overdoses, and young mothers being charged with drug related crimes. These stories always tug at my heart because they are so tragic. But there is a huge difference between hearing the stories on the news, and actually meeting a person face to face who is struggling with a heart-wrenching addiction to drugs.
The day in which I came face to face with a drug addict began with a very loud conversation in the waiting room. Everyone could easily overhear it, because the young couple was speaking so loudly and crudely while waiting for their turn to be seen by Amy, the health screener. The drunken slur in their voices made it apparent that although it was only 10:00 in the morning, they both had a lot of alcohol to drink already.
When Amy had finished checking the client’s height, weight and iron level, she handed me the chart and gave me a look that spoke volumes. I understood the look to say “Good Luck!”
The client’s name was Tammy and she came to see me alone, as her boyfriend decided to walk over to the NICU to spend a few precious minutes with their one month old baby who was under the expert care of the hospital NICU staff. One look at her was all it took for me to see that her life was a complete mess! Her eyes were sunken, she shook all over, she was emaciated, and she was wearing men’s pants that were covered with paint stains. She was completely unkempt, yet I could also tell that at one time, she must have been gorgeous! One look at her and I felt as if I was looking at Christ crucified. She was rejected and scorned. She was suffering immense pain. She looked for relief, but found none. It was an aura of death that surrounded her; in fact, I believed that she was already dying.
The fact that she slurred when she spoke and she reeked of alcohol at 10:00 in the morning was the least of her worries. The reason that her baby boy was in NICU was because he was born addicted to methamphetamine or meth for short. Tammy was in a big hurry to finish with me so she could see her baby before she had to leave for another appointment. It was difficult to keep our time together to a minimum because she struggled to focus on one topic. She assured me that she didn’t need any nutrition counseling. She had 5 children who were living in another state with their grandmother (her mother) and she had heard plenty of nutrition advice before. She knew that her iron was low because she always had low iron. Truthfully, even if I had wanted to counsel her on good nutrition, all of that was actually so unimportant compared to all of her other problems.
She and her boyfriend had hitchhiked here from her home state because someone had told her that this was a really great city. While they were here, she went into labor. They had no money and very limited insurance. It seemed that all of the money they had, went to support their meth habit. Meth is actually used to help wean people off of heroin, but the side effects of meth withdrawal are horrific! The worst of these are fever, excessive perspiration, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, body aches, tremors and irritability. It is like having influenza 24/7 with no relief in sight! Tammy was suffering from all of these and was crying as she tried to rattle off all of the life problems that were currently overwhelming her. She was broke and spent the previous day panhandling for money so she could purchase the prescription drugs she needed. Even with the money she was able to collect in this degrading manner (and Tammy did say that she really hated doing that, she still did have some dignity in spite of everything she was going through), it wasn’t enough to purchase her medicine, so it still was sitting at the pharmacy. She said she used the last of her cash to pay for bus fare so she could travel back and forth to doctor and social work appointments and visits to her baby in the hospital.
When it seemed that she could no longer draw tears from her eyes, she suddenly stood up and said, “I’m bipolar, too. I need medicine for that but can’t get it. I’m so afraid that someone will say the wrong thing to me and I will lose it and end up hurting them and go to jail!” Of course she said this with plenty of off color swear words interjected. The way her whole demeanor changed from crying to standing up and swearing was enough to make me assure her I would not say anything to upset her.
She was eager and agitated to get out of my office and over to the NICU to see her baby. I promised her that it would only be a few more minutes before her WIC checks would be ready and she could be on her way. I wanted to give her so much more help, but felt completely inadequate in this situation. So I hugged her and she left. While she was in the waiting room and I was working on printing her checks, Stacy, one of our clerks, came into my office, very concerned. She told me that I had to do more for her. She said, “You can’t let her leave! She’s in terrible pain and she needs help! You have to do something for her now!” So, I placed a call to the hospital social worker but got her answering machine. Stacy walked down the hall to see if one of the other nutritionists could continue looking for someone to offer additional assistance while I completed the certification and check printing process.
Since Tammy was in a hurry to see her baby, I told her that when I had the information for additional resources from our other nutritionist, I would bring it to her in the NICU. When I arrived at the NICU, the social worker that I had been trying to reach was with her, so I knew that she was in good hands with someone who had the expertise to take care of her. Her boyfriend was sitting in a rocker with a big pillow on his lap. The baby was lying on top of the pillow. That poor little boy was in so much pain that he couldn’t even bear to be held in his father’s arms! Tammy was pacing and crying while her boyfriend was loudly complaining about how hard it was to take care of her because her symptoms were so much worse than his were, and also complaining about how difficult it is to get into a treatment program. I handed her the envelope with information on mental health programs and emergency treatment for methadone withdrawal and walked back to the WIC clinic knowing that there was nothing else that I could do for her.
I had never in my life seen anything so tragic and couldn’t help but relieve my stress through tears. I walked into my office, sat down and cried. I think that everyone else that was working in the WIC clinic that day felt like crying as well. She had touched all of us and brought us all to feel a part of her agony. I’m sure she would not be getting custody of her baby if he would ever become well enough to leave the NICU, and I believe that it would be major tragedy if she did.
I had never really thought about the consequences of drug addiction in my sheltered little world in which I live. Tammy brought all of the horrific consequences to life for me that day, and drug addicts have been in my daily prayers ever since. I especially pray for pregnant addicts who pass the addictions on to their sweet little babies. I know that regardless of the fact that these women who abuse drugs have caused their own problems, the fact remains that they suffer and most likely began the drug use to escape previous pains in their lives.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for mothers and babies who suffer, regardless of the circumstances that cause their suffering. Please guide us all to a beautiful, blessed life in your love and in the love of God. Amen.