Enough is Enough

I hope it’s warm and sunny where you are…

”I passed that quote on a random Facebook post with a pretty picture in the background. I wondered if the plain, yet pleasant quote had even the slightest hint of a mind-numbing effect to the person who posted it as it did to me.
My mind wandered to my own addict whose current status happened to be a life of homelessness with an infinite number of poor life choices. I wondered if the area of the world where she currently existed was as rainy and cold as it was here. I pondered whether she might be sleeping under a bridge, if she had warm clothing, or if maybe by some dumb luck she might be in a shelter or hospital room for the night. I wondered if she was being taken advantage of or physically abused this week. I wonder if she was sober, completely relapsed, sick or in some other distress at the moment.
My day progressed as any day does with me diving into the work day head first. I learned you have to separate work life from home life fairly early in my career. The amount of mental/ physical damage and the toll it takes on personal relationships is devastating to police officers who can’t draw a distinct line between work and home life. It’s imperative to separate your worlds when other people’s lives depend on you being focused and present in every moment. I know I personally can’t afford to allow my random thoughts rule any day. An innocent person, another officer, or the wrong bad guy might suffer if I’m not 100%. I could never face a family knowing I slipped up and contributed to someone’s demise by being absent minded for just one minute. It’s difficult enough having to face a human when there’s a natural event or someone else’s bad judgement as the cause of death. No one (including myself) needs the added trauma and damage that would arise from any part of a death being my fault.
The radio echoes out the all too familiar words that make me cringe every time they cross my ears. “Respond to an overdose at (this address), caller states the subject is blue, not breathing and not conscious.”
As I run lights and siren to the address while dodging careless drivers and clearing intersections, I try to get my mental bearings and equipment in order. I stash the Narcan in my pocket and get my disposable gloves on. There’s not much time to waste once I arrive, mere seconds could be the difference between life and death. I say a silent plea to the man upstairs to let me get on scene in time to help this one person. I pray my usual plea to the Lord that I rescue this human, this human who is losing the battle to this hideous, tragic, non-discriminating disease that is taking the US by storm.
I briefly wonder how many times this individual person has been ripped away from heroin’s grasp due to Narcan. I dismiss that thought quickly, it really doesn’t matter to me how many times about the Narcan. THIS time could be the one that we bring them back to life and maybe, just maybe this will be the one where recovery wins the battle.
My worlds merge for a rare minute and my mind hopes somewhere on a dark street, there’s an officer just like me that will come across my sisters’ path. I hope and pray that they extend the same helping hand that I would, a hand that never gives up hope and never judges. I shake off that thought, I don’t want to think about the reality of it.
I remember my rookie officer days when I’d get agitated at the “same ole drunk”, “same ole crack head”, or “same address we’ve been to 4 times today”.
I remember the day one of my mentors snapped at me for calling someone “just a drunk.” I didn’t say it within earshot of said “drunk”, it was a private conversation between my mentor and me. He solemnly said, “don’t say that, don’t ever judge someone like that, you don’t know what makes him the way he is.” That was the day I learned to be humble and supportive instead of judgmental. That also happens to be a phrase that echoes my mind daily during my tour of duty, almost 20 years later.
My mind snapped back to the now, I’m almost on scene. No time to waste, maybe I could make a difference for this addict! I pull up to the house and rush out of my car, then through the door as swiftly as possible. I ask my normal questions as I start checking for a pulse and for breathing. I visually survey the scene for threats or evidence as I evaluate the life status of the human being in front of me. I realize it’s too late, she’s been dead for hours. I start CPR already knowing it’s useless as her mother cries and screams. I can’t just tell her that her baby is dead without even making the appearance that I tried to save her. I’ve made that mistake before and I am oddly aware that the family almost doesn’t believe their loved one is actually dead. In some odd sense it seems that not attempting to revive someone brings less closure to the family. It seems like I’m doing chest compressions for an eternity before EMS and another officer arrive. In reality it’s really only been a minute or 2. They take one look and come to the same conclusion as I do. I don’t have to say a word; the familiar faces of these EMS guys know exactly what is going on. We’ve met on this similar scenario way too many times, we can read each other now. They take over for me, so I can try to comfort the mother.
I look at my watch and know I have less than 20 minutes to get the right words flowing. 20 minutes is about standard protocol for any cardiac arrest before a medic will call the time of death officially. Who can I call to come be with you? Is there anyone you’d like us to notify? Let’s go sit down on the couch, can I get you a glass of water? Offering someone water in their own house isn’t the awkward part, that has yet to come.
Mom goes into a tearful, painful, loving story about her addict. These stories often have brief periods of sobriety and hope, along with childhood stories splashed in between relapses. And then there’s that phrase that gets me every time … “I knew it was coming, I knew one day she’d overdose, I knew she was going to die.”
My 20 minutes is nearing an end. Barring some divine intervention from the lord, so is this mother’s dream that her addict will ever beat this hideous disease.
One of the worst feelings in the world, one that most humans will never experience, is the next few hours of work for me. I’ll sit in the house, staring at a fatally overdosed/ deceased human being. She will be covered with a sheet and likely left on the floor where EMS just worked on her. The remaining first responders will leave one by one, each of them uttering solemn words of condolences as they exit. Everyone else will leave with the exception of the addict’s body, the addict’s mother, and myself. We will wait anywhere from a half an hour to 3-4 hours for the coroner to come gather the addict’s body to take it for an autopsy. Sometimes a tv will echo in the background, but it’s never loud enough to drown out the sobs of the broken-hearted mother in my company.
Besides the obvious uncomfortable silence that is basically this entire situation, my mind is spinning on its own. The addicts mother proceeds to tell me how she spent so many sleepless nights waiting on the phone call that her addict has died. I can actually feel her pain, but I can’t tell her because this isn’t my time to talk, I’m there for her. The mother tells me- every knock on the door, every car in the drive, every siren she hears….she thought it would be “the call”. My mind and heart think “I understand”, but I say nothing, I just nod and listen. I check my watch thinking hours must have passed and see it’s been 4 minutes.
My mind saunters back into my own troubles, there’s no stopping it sometimes. I wonder when I’ll be telling this same story. I wonder when I’ll get “the call” this mother speaks of. I look at the sheet over the young girls’ body, and I think back to my mentors’ words. I wonder how many officers think she’s “just another overdose”. My heart aches when the thought hits me that one day this will be my addict. I think about the officer who will find my addict in her final moments on earth. I painfully wonder if she will be “just another addict” to them. I wonder if they’ll look at her as just a statistic, or if they’ll know that she is someone’s lost loved one. I wonder if that officer will lose sleep that night over my addict the same way I will for the next few nights.
The coroner arrives, and I say my final attempt at supportive words to a broken mother. She thanks me for everything and I walk out the door. It’s on to the next call now, and it’s time to drop the nightmare that has been this past few hours. If I’m lucky that’ll be the only overdose for the day, but I don’t count on it. The echoes of the radio calling those cursed words will undoubtedly be heard again before my work day is over.
When the day finally ends I am completely beat. I walk in the door and am greeted by my pup. I’m out of the uniform and into sweats faster than humanly possible. I attempt to drop my work day when I take off my uniform, just as I drop my personal life when I put it on. I lay down and the day’s events scroll through my mind. The faces of addiction, the faces of pain, the faces of desperation, the faces of hopelessness, the faces of loved ones. I already know sleep won’t come on this night.
And again, I can’t help but think… “I hope it’s warm and sunny where you are!

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