Toby’s Click (2)

Please welcome Toby back to the “stage.” Remember you can visit her blog here.

Endocarditis

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.


Paths

Now that I am a parent, I often think about the role I play in my children’s lives.  There is the obvious of course, that I will feed them, clothe them, keep them healthy, make sure they get an education and give them lots of love.  But when it comes down to my desires and vision for their lives, how much will reality match the fantasy?  What really decides our paths?

Facebook has been an amazing look into people’s paths and how they often go in strange and unexpected directions.  When we step out from the consciousness of our families, we attract to our lives the situations and challenges that test us and bring us into our own.   When I was in high school I became fascinated with all things “unique.”  I would take weekly trips to vintage shops and artsy/New Agey stores and just walk around, mostly looking at clothes I loved but didn’t have the nerve to wear.  I was attracted to guys with long hair and piercings (too young yet to be into tattoos).  When I met a perspective boyfriend, I’d often ask “What do you do?” with the hopes of an answer like write poetry, paint, or play guitar.  All of my serious boyfriends did one of those three things.  The sirens of creativity called to me, even if vicariously through other people and places.  These days the vision I hold for my life is a marriage of creativity and spirituality.  My path, with its odd detours and speed bumps, seems to have brought me to me.

I have a friend named Toby.  You will meet her tomorrow in the first in a series of four click stories.  For a short period, Toby and I walked our path together.  We spent weekends hanging out with boys with long hair and piercings.  I tasted artichoke for the first time in Toby’s kitchen standing between her and her mother.  We played soccer and rode in Heather’s convertible Firebird singing Hotel California together.  I took my very first college road trip to visit her at NC State our freshmen year of college.  We were both poets and loved to write.  She was a lot more outgoing than me, but other than that we were very similar.

The last time I was with Amy we sat on her bed (she was on bed rest) and looked at each other’s Facebook pages.  Amy was so excited to share that she had found Toby.  I honestly don’t remember the exact connection but Amy and Toby were also pretty close friends.  Amy was the first to tell me that Toby had been a heroin addict.  When Toby and I finally connected on Facebook she was quick to share with me what she had overcome.  I also learned that she was a proud new mama who was finding her way back to writing.  Despite how drastically different the past fifteen years had been for us, we were now on similar paths…maybe even inching our way onto the same path.

Toby has now sent me four of her stories and has started her own blog.  As she put it on Facebook the other day, she is “writing furiously.”  I read her stories and am greatly aware at how simply and easily our lives can be changed…but also how we at some level create these challenges.  In one of her posts, Toby shares how she was always fascinated with heroin.  She read books and watched movies about addicts and fantasized about her own relationship with the drug.  And just like she always knew, the drug found her, was even presented to her as a birthday gift.  She made a choice that day and it was the only choice she could have made in the moment.  It brought her to where she is now.

What I think is that we are here to choose our on paths and make our own destinies.  Our parents will raise us, teach us, and love us but in the end who we really are will find it’s way through.  Sometimes we are just like our parents and families, sometimes we are not.  There are many crossroads.  Sometimes we make choices that could be described as selfish, careless, or just plain fucked up.  And sometimes it is those very choices that ultimately bring us salvation, even if that salvation comes after a long and hellacious battle.