Privilege and despair: caring for young drug users.

Those in healthcare are privy to incredible privilege. We walk into people’s homes, discuss all aspects of their personal lives and then as a relative stranger, they trust us to make decisions about their life which can have significant positive or negative consequences.

Yet such empowerment is intimately entwined with deep despair; as we see people who are unloved, lives that are broken, bodies and homes which are shattered, all without the veils that are so often cast up to prevent visitors or friends knowing what is actually going on.

We were called to an overdose. 18 year old male. But it wasn’t in some dingy backwater part of town, in an alley at 3am. It was at midday. Sun shining, in a nice home, in a nice neighbourhood, with nice views of the ocean.

Our poor patient was sitting in the shower. His friends said he’d been in and out of conciousness for hours overnight. He reported vomiting bright green fluid since around 12am, hot and cold flushes, intense abdominal pain, and a ceaseless impending sense of doom. No hallucinations. No delusions.

In truth, he seemed perfectly lucid.

With him, were five others. All in their late teens/ early twenties and well dressed. Each had shared with him the marijuana, ecstasy, speed and alcohol cocktail of the last 48 hours. Although some had also vomited, none had experienced what our patient was suffering.

Moving him out of the shower, our vital signs showed him in a sinus tachycardia, but nothing else was remarkable.

The home in which this bender had occurred belonged to the parents of one our patient’s friends. Immaculate aside from the mess the kids had made this weekend (empty bottles and cans strewn across the bench, along with McDonalds and pizza boxes), the living room was adorned with the certificates, trophies and pictures of the family. Warm smiles of siblings and parents in what I suspected would be a happier time compared to what was to come; already I observed that there were no recent photos of the owners’ son, nor certificates of merit.

Explaining that we could not diagnose for certain what we wrong, we detailed some possibilities; a bad batch/reaction of drug, a gastro-inflammation, some type of infection. We offered to take him to hospital.

He in sound mind, refused.

They all claimed to know their drugs, know what to expect. Know how to look after each other. They were nice kids, and they were damn smart. We chatted with them for awhile, keeping an eye on our patient, before saying our goodbyes.

Kids with lives others would kill to have… throwing it away for thrills, knowing the risks they are taking and that it could (and most likely will) all crumple beneath their feet.

Too often I have met with families who are wealthy, who love and care for their children… and who are now paying once again for rehab. Who have had their heart broken countless times by the family member they love as that person gets sucked in again to drugs.

Too often I have seen or met people who within months have lost everything because they got tangled up in a few bad choices.

It’s bad enough when it’s someone who is considered ‘at risk’. I’m devastated each time I see a kid who had a good education, and the whole world going for them, in the early stages of drug addiction. Because I know where it leads. I know the sorts of things they’ll do, how much pain and grief it will cause them and the people they love. And odds are, I’m going to meet these kids at work again….. and again….and again.

So whilst the privileges in healthcare are wonderful, the truth is that the reality of our broken world means as long as the Earth turns we will keep finding broken people. People who are a lot more like us, than many (particularly in healthcare) would care to admit. Who we share much more in common with than we may like. Who need our love, prayers, patience and time, far more than what we can give. Who may die young, sad and alone.

I hate drugs.



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