Please welcome Toby back to the “stage.” Remember you can visit her blog here.
Life as a junky is unlike any other life. In the life of a junky, one tends to put all reality aside, existing only in a world swimming with derangement. Only now, when I look back do I see just how bad things really were.
There were many instances that would have been one of those aha moments where my life changed forever, but I was too messed up to figure it out. There were no ahas, but instead only the ahhhhhhhhs of getting high and relief from withdrawal. Now that I have begun to really reflect, many of these moments scare the crap out of me. Maybe it is only now, with some clarity, that I can call them an aha. As I say to myself, I will never go back there!
Charity Hospital in New Orleans was not the most pleasant place. Nothing against the facility itself, nor its wonderful doctors, but when one ends up for a stay in Charity it is never pleasant. I will never forget my first stay there, even if it has taken me years to feel the gravity of the situation.
I was not sure what was wrong with my shoulder, or if it was even my shoulder. The horrible pain could have been coming from my back. I do know that I had injured it at the strip club doing some elaborate flip over type move that I was probably way too wasted to perform. When it first started hurting, I paid it no mind. Weeks went by before I even quit doing the move that hurt so bad but looked so good on stage. With the use of extra dope in every shot, sometimes I hardly noticed the pain.
Eventually, the pain got so bad that it started to take my breath away. Of course I kept working…how else was I going to keep from withdrawal? Until one afternoon I discovered I could not even get out of bed. It seemed then that my upper back, by the right shoulder blade was locked tight. The pain was so excruciating that I could not even get out of bed. I was thankful I had my works, along with a cup of water right by the bed. After a big, fat “morning” shot, I still could not get out of bed. Screaming in pain, I called someone to take me to Charity.
As usual at Charity, I waited for many, many hours. I sat up, uncomfortable in those waiting room chairs for what seemed like an eternity. I was in too much pain to eat or drink much. I watched so many in much worse shape than me pass through that emergency room…gunshots, knife wounds, and even an awful dog bite right to a pretty girl’s cheek. I envied them for not having to wait in such excruciating pain. Thankfully, I had a pocketful of dope and could frequently sneak into the restroom for a little line. Not the same kick as the needle, but I doubt even that could have overridden the pain.
When they finally called me back almost a day later, I collapsed when I tried to stand up. I was so dehydrated and weak. My vital signs were not normal. They tried to put an IV for fluids in, but my veins were so bad and I was so dehydrated that they admitted me immediately.
They gave me water and eventually got a line in me. It was when the doctor listened to my heart that the real concerns began to arise. Apparently, the nurses had heard it first and were just waiting for a doctor to come around to confirm their suspicions.
They were hearing a heart murmur, and a very noticeable one at that. It was so prominent that nurses in training were brought by to be taught what a heart murmur sounded like. If one could not hear my murmur, one could not hear any murmur. Even an untrained ear like mine could hear this weird sound in my chest. It sounds like a thump, swoosh rather that the normal thump, thump.
The concern of any heart murmur in an IV drug user is a disease called endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection on one of the valves of the heart, which is caused by nasty foreign particles being injected to the bloodstream and lodging on the valve. It is very serious and could require months in the hospital and hundreds of rounds of IV antibiotics. Without treatment, endocarditis most likely causes death.
The doctors were even more concerned when they realized my white blood cell count was up. This generally indicates there is an infection. Since I did not seem to have anything wrong with me, the infection was feared to be in my heart. Panic began to set in at this point. The rib I had broken on my backside was no concern at this point, and they were keeping me comfortable with a ton of methadone. But, my mind was not comfortable at all as it ran in all directions.
My heart? Something is wrong with my heart? The doctor reminded me, we cannot live without our heart. I thought about living the rest of my life with heart problems, and I thought about dying. I thought about spending months and months in the hospital. All kinds of thoughts raced unchecked through my head.
Then, the testing began. They drug me all over that hospital in those ancient wheelchairs. They did echocardiograms to look at the heart. They drew lots and lots of blood. It seemed that they were just pumping me full of all kinds of stuff, taking all my blood out, and testing me like a lab rat.
After my mind was exhausted stressing the possibilities, it seems they had come to a conclusion. Extensive testing of my blood for days had revealed there was no infection in my heart. All I had was a urinary tract infection to cause the white blood cell count being so high. As for the murmur, maybe it was simply a functional murmur I was born with. Although, it was so prominent most doctors did not believe this could be the case. Either way, I was due to be released later that day.
Relief spread through me…I am not going to die, or spend months in here. In a few hours I was headed home, and I was so overwhelmed that I was suddenly aware of the intense cravings I was having. I really wanted a shot of heroin. The doctors warned me that another one could cause this scenario I had just narrowly avoided. In the hospital, I had sworn it off all together…I will never use a needle again. But now that I was out, I was so relieved to be okay. I was released of all that worry and allowed to feel the craving that had probably been lying underneath the surface of all that worry.
On the ten to fifteen minute ride from the hospital, I contemplated a shot. I must have talked myself in and out of it at least thirty times. But, the dope addict of course won out. I had not been for home for five minutes when the dope man showed up. It was about twenty minutes after I left the hospital that I was shooting up again.
Almost being diagnosed with endocarditis should have been an aha moment. It should have been a moment to wake me up, to give me clarity, to stop this deadly cycle. Unfortunately, it was not and my addiction soared out of control for years to come. I wish now it had scared me so badly I would have stopped because I never would have plummeted to the depths I did.
After getting sober, I was had the heart checked again and it was confirmed the sound is merely a valve that worked slightly different but is completely healthy. At this point of sobriety in my life, I have realized that there is no point dwelling on the past. The best we can do for ourselves is to take the hand we are dealt, even when we dealt our own cards, and try to make the best play. Sometimes, I still feel like I am taking it one day at a time, as if I have just entered rehab. Other days I feel like this is no longer such an uphill struggle and things are getting easier. Although I wish I could change the past, the fact is I cannot. None of us can. So it is best that we just move forward, using our mistakes a stepping stone to learn from.