A Firefighter’s Tale by Captain Michael Morse, PFD
Most of them anyway. Sadly, in my first responder career I’ve had the misfortune to see abject lack of care in the most unexpected places. One was on a common 911 call, someone needing help with addiction, someone whose life was locked in a downward spiral. Those of us who know how hard-won our sobriety is also know that how we handle these calls can make all the difference.
I spent nearly an hour in her home, talking with her friend, learning why she refused to get out of bed, refused to stop drinking, and refused to join the rest of us in life. Her boss had been there earlier, poured two bottles of vodka down the drain and left with her wallet so she couldn’t get more. She had no family to speak of, a brother in Maine, parents dead, husband of twenty years dead since August.
A big black German Sheppard cried at the rear door during what I call negotiations; eventually I let him in. I think that may have been the breaking point, she showed a little sign of life once the only creature who hadn’t given up on her showed concern. She got out of bed, threw on some clothes and gave in.
Her friend closed up the house, promised to take care of the dog and simply looked relieved as this drama seemed to be heading in the right direction.
What had started in the usual way actually looked like it might have some sort of happy ending. I’ve done this a few times, and it never is easy. Somebody is refusing to take care of themselves, drinking, not eating, not bathing, and just waiting to die. I cannot make them go if they don’t want to. Because somebody else thinks it is in their best interest to get on with things is no reason to drag somebody from their home and force them to rejoin society. It’s still a free country, we are free to thrive, or not.
I had her on the stretcher, she really couldn’t walk that well. We wheeled her into the busy ER. The triage nurse barely glanced in our direction.
“Can she get off the stretcher?”
“What do you mean, not really?” a look of disgust from the RN.
“We don’t have any beds, put her in a chair and throw her in the waiting room.”
Throw her. I swear to god that is what she said.
When you lose perspective and compassion, it’s time to find a new job. Maybe administration, maybe retirement, I don’t know, but get the hell out of the ER.
After explaining the situation, and seeing my words fall on deaf ears, I realized that she actually would have left this woman, newly committed to sobriety, there, alone, to rot.
I swear, I will never understand that kind of person, no matter how long I’m on the planet.
So, I stayed with my charge until I found another nurse, and a compassionate registrar, and made sure she was okay.
Her friend walked in, and I left the hospital. One friend is all it takes. For my part, I can only hope the woman takes the lifeline her friend is offering.
Knowing how delicate and vulnerable is that moment when someone in the throes of addiction takes a first shaky step toward recovery, I’m sorely aware of how one bad apple may be the proverbial straw, making someone feel safer in the hands of a destructive substance than with a fellow human being. In the moment of that first step, firm resolve and steady recovery are months, possibly years away. To be tested by callousness when life with alcohol is still your comfort world is a Heartbreak Hill at the end of a marathon. Sometimes it’s beyond what many can bear.
But in spite of the reprehensible behavior of those around us, sobriety is our choice. I can only say to those about to make that choice that the stakes are far too high to allow a disengaged, burned out person to ruin our chances for recovery. Nothing in life that has any worth comes easy. Battles must be fought, patience tested and inspiration found in the most dire circumstances. Obstacles must be overcome; there will be plenty of personal walls to breach, doors to force and roofs to vent during the battle for ourselves. Another person who simply does not have what it takes to help us on our journey need not be our undoing. For every one of those, there are dozens ready, willing and able to help. Find someone who is in recovery to talk to. Most of us are so grateful we truly enjoy helping someone else get there.
Then it is up to us to take what is offered, and get on with the life we know awaits us.