(This may be the first in a series of posts where I outline how I am trying to love the job again....maybe.)
Suddenly all of the lay people I know are asking me if I am noticing an uptick in overdoses. The truth is that I have. As the supply purchaser at work, I can barely keep up with buying BVM's (which can be used to breathe for people), nasal atomizers (a handy tool that lets just about anyone squirt narcan up their noses) and narcan itself (the handy drug that reverses heroin overdoses).
The number of overdoses in America has (temporarily) captured attention. This is how we are killing our youth. For EMS, it is all too routine. Never in my career did I think I'd hear medics (including myself) act so indifferent to patients that are on the brink of death. I am not being over-dramatic- these people die. They die often, because you can only not breathe for so long. But most don't die. Somehow they chip away at their nine lives and come back from the brink, only to overdose again.
I have been thinking about all of the recent overdoses and and how causally we take them now. I missed an IV on one of these patients and heard with a chuckle "Oh, he's better at finding his veins than you are." from my colleagues. Oh. HAHA. But this is just one example of how we see these patients as not 'real' and as sub-human. Yes, they lie to us. Yes, they don't believe that they were nearly dead. Yes, they are unappreciative. Yes, they are often homeless and unemployed.
How easy it is to forget how shitty their lives really are, How easy it is to forget that these people are sons and daughters, fathers, and mothers.
Most of us have never truly been addicted. I mean sure...I love candy, chocolate, and playing video games, but those are not actual addictions.
I (do, but) shouldn't judge a person who is so addicted to something that they would do it over and over again to their almost guaranteed demise. I do not understand addiction that ends in ruined lives, children in foster care, and squalid living conditions. But I don't have to understand any of that. What I have to remember is that these people are human and so am I. Bad decisions happen. I could just have easily made the same bad decisions, but somehow I didn't. Addiction is real.
I have to believe that these people want their lives back. They want their kids. They want jobs and to be members of society. I have to believe this because I feel myself falling into the idea that it is okay to joke and judge about addiction. It is too easy to judge them, write them off, and fantasize about letting them die.
No, we cannot mourn for every ruined life or every dollar wasted, but we as EMS should be trying harder. I am tired of being the band aid.
So, like John Oliver I want to lay out a rant and then set a challenge. Mostly for myself. There is no point in preaching if I can't enact a plan of action. I have set a personal challenge to start with compassion. I want to take a moment to remember that addicts are people, people who need help, and we just happen to be in the business of helping people. I want to learn my local resources for these people. I want to no longer accept refusals from these patients (but that's probably another post) and get them to the next step.
The last overdose I had woke up and said "I was going to go to rehab tomorrow".
I most sincerely and overly-heroically said "Well, now you have a tomorrow."