My latest and newest and fanciest job role is as a volunteer/intern/thingymadoo at a hospital in Brooklyn. I am working in the detox inpatient ward. To cover the basics, my co-workers are absolutely lovely, my atmosphere is grand, and the patients are at their very best. That is, considering the horrors of withdrawal, I have been very impressed with their smiles and decency. More amazing than that is the types of people I've met. These patients are coming into the E.R. of the hospital, are then interviewed, and then, depending on their rating on the "You an addict, son!" scale, they are then sent to outpatient services, inpatient services, or sent out to stop whining, get a cab, and go home.
Now, I want you to imagine the type of person you would meet at an inpatient detox center. Be honest. First thoughts. Are they old? Young? Professional? Extroverted? Depressed? Mean? Sickly? What do you see? Who is this person?
You can erase that person. Well, maybe not.... Most likely, however, the person you just drew up is unlike anyone I have met in the hospital yet. Not to say that whoever you viewed is not the more typical type or overall, more commonly seen in these settings. The surprise to me was how many of these people were NOT who I was expecting, nor who you would expect, I am sure. I've seen people in their 30s, 70s, 50s. Women, men, muscular, heavy, thin, blonde, bald, tattooed, with glasses. Some homeless, some with respectable jobs. Others don't want to get well. They just came to detox for a place to sleep and free food. Although, the fella who did this was the one who saw me watering the plants one day and the next day said, "I watered them for you today, flower girl."
They all had one thing in common, though. They all wanted to call their mother. Many of them relapsed because their mother was sick. Many are addicts because their parents were addicts, or because their kids are addicts. Others because they became addicted to prescribed medication or they were stressed or lonely or depressed. I met a chef, an introverted intellectual, a mother whose daughter graduated from John Jay.... There have also been many couples. They detox together, they relapse together. As one co-worker said, "They're starting to call us 'Sandals Detox Center' because of all the couples who are starting to come."
Some of these individuals only drink, only do benzos, only do opiates. Some think smoking cigarettes is awful. Though, cigarettes aren't allowed, anyway. Most of these people have been hospitalized or detoxed or in a special community for addicts before. Others are in for the first time and are very nervous and scared of being judged. They're not bad people. They know they're not bad people. And they want everyone else to know their not bad people. Some of them are just better at showing it than others. We don't know what they've been through, where they've been, what they've seen.
There's no real point to this blogamadoo.... I just wanted to share the experience, the stories. This is just a beginner's tale that I may add future stories and facts to for your benefit, and my own. We can learn about these people, their illness, and the path to a cure (or treatment) together.
Not to mention, the reminder that it is indeed a disease. An illness. A sickness. As another co-worker explained, just like any other disease, we have medication and upkeep. Sometimes we forget to take out medication and take care of ourselves, so our body warns us. Seizures, blackouts, shaking, hangovers, quivers, and various other symptoms remind these people that they are unwell. However, fortunately, they have some control over this sickness. They can get better and overcome it. As a matter of fact, at least half the staff are ex-addicts of one sort or another. They got better, they made a life for themselves. Judgment and cruelty are not cures. My view is: help these people, be part of the solution, or get out of the way.