Peter’s friend Jen called me the other day. I could tell the minute I answered the phone that she was crying. Hard. She sobbed out that Peter was in the hospital. She didn’t know where or why. She’d called his number and someone from “the house” answered and said that Peter had been taken by ambulance in the middle of the night. He did not say why. I spoke gently to Jen to help her calm down, gave her a list of questions and told her to call Peter’s number again and get answers. I got off the phone and started calling local hospitals. I should have known better. I work in a hospital. HiPPA prevents hospitals from giving any information (including whether a person is a patient at a facility) to random callers. Luckily, Jen called back quickly.
Peter overdosed and someone at “the house” called 911. It took paramedics 3 doses of Narcan to bring him back. And even then it wasn’t entirely clear to bystanders (and the person reporting to Jen) whether or not they’d actually resuscitated him. Jen told this to me in a wooden monotone. She was as shocked and dismayed telling me as I was hearing it. Yes yes I know dear reader that it sounds absolutely ridiculous, knowing what I know of Peter, that I would be shocked to learn he’d overdosed. But emotions are not always rational. And I was shocked.
After a few calls to hospitals in his area (where I asked to speak with a patient) I found him. On an ICU. I left a message with the floor social worker. Jen called me again. A friend of her cousin’s husband’s sister (or something like that) works at the hospital Peter was in and had access to his record. And even though she was bound by HiPPA, she did confirm what we knew. Peter overdosed. And was resuscitated. With Narcan. He was actually on a cardiac floor, not an ICU.
There is a weird difference between knowing something and KNOWING something. In my mind I have always known and have readily shared here that Peter is a drug addict. But there is something about the absolute confirmation that he had actually come so close to dying as a result of his addiction that cast a profound pall over me. In the course of the 36 hours following Jen’s phone call I fell into a deep depression.
I felt like my world was rocked. My little brother had almost died. My brother overdosed on drugs. He was back to using. How had it been that over these last several months I’d had such an amazing sibling connection with him? How had it been that he had sounded so clear and so clean for so long? Was he using drugs all along? Was I that naive? Yet still I dared to hope. Hope that this was a freak accident in the middle of a solid recovery. Hope that this was one slip up and that’s why his body reacted so strongly. Hope that I might still have that amazing connection that I believed we were growing.
I got in touch with Peter on his second day in the hospital. He sounded groggy and petulant. He kept repeating that he’d had some kind of a seizure and that he was fine now and didn’t need to be in the hospital. He was clearly frustrated and I could hear him wrestling and wrangling with bedclothes and sheets as he talked. I was taken aback by his vociferous and adamant deflections of his circumstances. When I pressed with pointed questions he grew louder and more agitated. Almost yelling, “I tripped on the leg of a coffee table and fell! I had some sort of seizure. I don’t know if the seizure caused the fall or if the fall caused the seizure. I fell on my face and broke my nose and other bones in my face. Otherwise I am fine. I just need to get out of here!”
The broken facial bones was news to me. That and a dislocated shoulder. I tried to focus on those facts. Trying to make sense of anything else was too disconcerting to me. I received a call from the social worker after 6PM the following day. Peter had signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. She was sorry to have to report that she said. She also tried to explain that Peter is a very sick man and that I shouldn’t be angry with him, because addiction is a sickness. I thanked her for her kindness. I asked her what she was still doing at work at 6:47PM. She sighed and said, “Hell if I know! I was supposed to be gone hours ago.” So I gave her permission to leave. She laughed. I think it made both of us feel a little better.
The fact was though, that I was angry at Peter. While I understand addiction is an illness, I can’t help but feel angry. I am angry about the impact drug addiction has had on my life (both mother’s and Peter’s). I am angry that I have ended up being the one to clean up other people’s messes again and again because “they are sick” and can’t get out of their own fucking way. I am angry that drug addiction around me has made my type-A personality a force, making me a veritable diabolical machine that cannot ever rest, that always has to be taking care of someone or something, cleaning up after and fixing other people’s messes. I didn’t deserve a mother like this or a brother like this. Damn right I am angry. I am even angry that I don’t let myself have a fucking glass of wine because I’m so terrified of becoming like them.
I’m also hurting. Once again I opened my heart, I held out hope. Only to have those hopes dashed unceremoniously, smashed to bits, trampled, without a scintilla of caring or a backward glance. I had dared to hope that Peter had changed, that I could trust him, that I was not alone. What’s that saying, fool me once? I have no one to blame but myself.
The next few calls from Peter I ignored. When I finally answered I was cantankerous. He tried to tell me his shoulder kept popping out of place and it hurt. I said, “well maybe you should have stayed in the hospital.” His response floored me. He said, “Hali, I couldn’t. The food was so terrible I just couldn’t stay another day there.” That’s a quote folks. Hard to argue with that logic(sic). I went back to ignoring his calls.
When I finally answered I was determined to confront him. I started out by telling him to cut the crap. I told him I’d “seen the report” and I knew exactly what happened. I didn’t want to get Jen’s cousin’s brother’s wife’s sister in any trouble for breaking HiPPA. Peter challengingly asked what I was talking about and I told him I knew he had overdosed. He vehemently denied any such thing, gasping indignantly, clutching his pearls, and sputtering one absurd story after another (which I will spare you). I asked him about the Narcan. He hesitated before spewing more implausible, waste-of-my-time lies. I don’t know what I expected. Or even wanted. I guess I’d hoped that he would tell me the truth. How on earth am I this stupid?!
Hope may be inexorable, but I am a fucking moron. Was it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I’m not so sure right now. If I’d kept up my armor and not let Peter in, I wouldn’t be this hurt right now. Was it worth it? Those few months of sharing and belonging and softening? In this moment I’d have to say no.
*While I may still be protecting my heart where Peter is concerned, I did make a few phone calls on his behalf to at least get him out of the crack house, getting him a room at the YMCA for the time being. At least my sense of decency and kindness has not been totally eradicated.