Call of Duty

“I’m a shit bag,” he says to me.  “I’m supposed to be taking my boy trick or treating tonight.  I can’t fucking believe I did this.  You said I wasn’t breathing?  After all I’ve been through to die like this.  Fuck me.  I’ve got shit for brains.”

The young man got out of jail an hour before.  Thirty days for failure to appear.  He got picked up by some acquaintances, who as a present gave him a bag of heroin to snort.  (“Just one bag,” he says, “and I snorted it.  I’ve never oded before.  And on top of that I’ve been clean for two months.”)

His acquaintances were going to drop him off at his girlfriend’s house.  His girlfriend was going to drive him to his ex-wife’s house.  His ex-wife had agreed to let him take his son trick or treating.  Instead, when he turned blue and stopped breathing, his new buddies dumped him on the ground in front of a hospital – only it wasn’t a hospital with an ED – and then they took off, leaving him on the pavement.  A security guard found him, called 911 and alerted the medical staff inside.

When he came around, I saw the panic in his eyes.  I was just getting out of the ambulance.  Fire had given him 4 of Narcan IN and had just now stopped bagging him.  He was surrounded by a good twenty medical personnel and at least two crash carts.  A nurse stood over him squeezing a bag of D5/ ½ Normal Saline.  But that wasn’t what was scaring him.  He was looking up at the Grim Reaper, a creepy looking clown and at least three ladies with colorful cat faces and whiskers.  The facility was having a Halloween party.

“It’s okay,” I said to him.  “It’s okay.  You oded.  They gave you Narcan.  It’s Halloween.  You’re okay.  You’re all right now.”

We talk on the way to the hospital.  He broke his back and sustained a concussion when his Humvee hit an IED in an ambush.  He came home with a bad painkiller habit that quickly turned to heroin.  He says he detoxed himself two months ago when he couldn’t get into treatment.  When my paramedic student puts electrodes on his chest, the man flinches.  The scar on his chest is a bullet hole.  “Twelve of us went out, only three came back,” he tells us.  “And now I do this stupid shit.”

At the ED we give our report to the nurse and her trainee.  In the room, the paramedic student shakes the tearful man’s hand and says, “Thank you for your service.”  So does the tech, the nurse, her trainee, and my partner.  

It’s only two in the afternoon.  They’ll let him go in a couple hours.  “You may make it yet,” I say.

None of these users are shit bags.  They are medical patients fighting a horrible brain disease of addiction that many contracted through no fault of their own.  This guy, like many others, gave our country his best.    Our duty in EMS is to give our best — to all of our patients.

Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

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