Even the kindest of souls have moments of flawed humanity. We lash out at a loved one over a trivial matter. We hurl insults that later we wish we could pull back. When we feel lack within ourselves, we want another to feel it also. We cannot possibly bear one more minute of suffering alone, so we strike. We inflict pain. We attempt to level the playing field. We forget that we are not in competition with anyone but ourselves.
I cared for a heroin addict the other day. This is nothing new. I see them almost daily. I am used to their tirades as the Narcan cancels out the buzz that nearly killed them. This guy, though, he was really sick. He was an addict, yes, but he also had diabetes. His blood sugar was nearly 1000 when he came in. He was severely dehydrated and acidotic. His sugary breaths were rapid. Foam was running out of his mouth. I helped him undress. He was shaking and ice cold. I hooked him up to the cardiac monitor. The peaks of his fast rhythm were so exaggerated that I initially thought he was about to code. I was challenged in finding a decent vein that wasn’t scarred or blown up. On the third try, I found one and hooked him up to fluids. I gave him insulin. I covered his shivering body in warmed blankets. He begged me to help him. He became panicky and delirious and tried to climb out of the bed. He told me that he needed to lie down on the hospital floor. I could not let him do this. My job, I told him, was to keep him safe. I wrestled with him for a few minutes before I had help to pull him up in bed. I begged the doctor for something, anything, to keep this poor man calm.
Respite came in the form of Ativan. I then watched him sleep. I was not letting him out of my sight. I saw in his chart that he had Hepatitis. His liver enzymes were dangerously elevated. If all Heroin addicts play a form of Russian Roulette, this fellow was playing an advanced version with a machine gun. I wanted only to make him better, but this was no overnight fix. I was relieved when he got a room in the ICU. I called report to a nurse who said he had seen the patient before. He had been on the vent then: sedated and restrained. He had nearly died that time too. I delivered my sleeping cargo to the unit and hooked him up to their wires. I stole a backwards glance as I left the room. I wished I felt hopeful for him. Instead, I realized that he was completely and utterly alone.