According to the Center for Disease Control: 78 people die every day from an Opioid overdose.
It was Spring of 2005 in Las Vegas, NV. Amidst the stench of stale cigarettes and patched drywall of the Luxor Hotel my boyfriend lay trembling in fear underneath the dated harvest orange and gold comforter. I can still recall the click of the door as it closed behind me while my eyes began adjusting to the dark room and abyss that had become my life.
“Lock the deadbolt,” he yelled. “They’re after us!”
“Who’s after us?” I inquired.
“The Feds! The room is bugged. Check the room for bugs. The phones are tapped. Don’t answer the phone! They can’t know we’re here.”
I believed him. He was so certain. I was 22 at the time. He was a heavy hitter in an offshore trading company and a hedge fund manager. He gave motivating speeches about investing in the Bahamas, Singapore, and Boca Raton. His paranoia seemed reasonable at the time, but in hindsight incredibly unlikely.
The reality was my boyfriend had suffered a C-spine injury several years earlier in a water skiing accident and had become dependent on narcotics. Lortabs mostly, 7.5mg/325mg. In that soulless Vegas hotel room he was suffering one of many withdrawals in his ongoing cycle of addiction. Paranoia, diaphoresis, delusions, and mood swings were a regular part of his week.
It wasn’t long after that I left the short relationship and began healing my own spirit from the manipulation and abuse: the collateral damage that inevitably comes with caring for someone in the throes of addiction. The countless trips to multiple doctors, the lies, the volatile fights. I had suppressed most of the memories until I became a surgical nurse 10 years later at a fast paced inner city hospital.
On any given week there’s numerous abscesses drained under anesthesia due to the severity of infections from injecting narcotic concoctions.
Shooter’s abscesses and skin popping are now part of my vernacular. Amputations aren’t uncommon. Preventing the infection from spreading is our primary focus.
My position is far outside the scope of coordinating mental health services. Wash it out, administer antibiotics, and keep them alive until they are released. After which, many meander to the nearby bike path to find another fix. For those who take a lethal dose their organs are often recovered and given to others in need. I’m not religious. I perceive karma as nothing more than a well intentioned farce. A career in trauma in any capacity will do that. Nonetheless I brush their forehead and offer a silent prayer of peace if I happen to be the one zipping up the body bag to send them off to the morgue.
In the Operating Room there is a respect for human life, a life lost, but emotion is often absent, lost in the drama of fast moving emergency procedures where vulnerability can be a liability. Critical thinking and life saving measures take priority.
I often ask myself if the opioid epidemic seems more relevant only because I’m so exposed to it? This is not the case:
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine facts and figures released earlier this year: drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. 1
Four out of five heroin users start out using prescription pain killers and the largest population at risk is women. 2
Outside the hospital there is a heartbeat of hope. Compassionate gym owners are opening their doors offering a respite for those struggling with substance use disorder. An inclusive community of fitness professionals, many in recovery themselves, offering their support, square footage, and knowledge for free.
Exercise has been shown as a useful tool in the treatment of addiction. The more tools an individual has on their road to recovery the less likely they are to revert to old behaviors.
Many gyms offer a nurturing community, access to showers, group exercise classes to improve brain chemistry, structure, and goal setting. These things collectively begin to build the foundation of long term recovery.
If you or someone you know is interested in participating or learning more about the campaign please visit humanstrength.org.
If you would like to post about programs you know of in your area offering free services to combat the opioid crisis please post these resources in the comments below or on the attached facebook page.