â€œIâ€™m a shit bag,â€ he says to me. â€œIâ€™m supposed to be taking my boy trick or treating tonight. I canâ€™t fucking believe I did this. You said I wasnâ€™t breathing? After all Iâ€™ve been through to die like this. Fuck me. Iâ€™ve got shit for brains.â€
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 (â€œJust one bag,â€ he says, â€œand I snorted it. Iâ€™ve never oded before. And on top of that Iâ€™ve been clean for two months.â€
They were going to drop him off at his girlfriendâ€™s house who was going to drive him to his ex-wifeâ€™s house, who was going to let him take his son trick or treating. Instead, when he turned blue and stopped breathing, they dumped him on the sidewalk in front of a hospital â€“ only it wasnâ€™t a hospital with an ED â€“ and took off. 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/ Â½ Normal Saline. But that wasnâ€™t what was scaring him. He was looking up at the Grim Reaper, a clown and at least three ladies with colorful cat faces and whiskers. Place was having a Halloween party.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ I said to him. â€œItâ€™s okay. You oded. They gave you Narcan. Itâ€™s Halloween. Youâ€™re okay. Youâ€™re all right now.â€
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 couldnâ€™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. â€œTwelve of us went out, only three came back,â€ 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 manâ€™s hand and says, â€œThank you for your service.â€ 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 gave our country his best. Our job in EMS is to give ours.