Fast Tracks To Hell
The girl had either overdosed on heroin or the concoction she bought had been mixed with something even more lethal. This would be for the coroner to determine.
It was a tragic sight, and one that is all too common these days. At nineteen years old, this child had only experienced sadness and misery throughout her life. According to her long medical history she had been in and out of hospital most of her life; the earliest notations reflecting that she had been a victim of child abuse ten years earlier. The nurse, Rachel, pointed out that her medical history indicated there was no emergency contact, along with a note that her mother had died the previous year from a drug overdose. Her body had already remained there for a couple of hours as the nursing and orderly staff were quite busy.
Every month there’s a small trickle of young people who try to escape their lives by heading south to the English coast. Sadly, the problems they are running from most often become compounded when they discover that their real crisis comes from within.
This wasn’t one of the hospitals where I generally serve. I had come to visit with the nurse to discuss arranging an interment service for her mother’s cremains. Rachel’s shift was at night and it was easier for both of us, for me to come visit her during her break, and then I could visit a family who lived nearby. But I knew that any emergency would take priority over her break schedule.
I asked Rachel for a favour. I wanted to bring someone to see this girl’s body. I was quickly thinking of an idea that I hoped might bring some light from this darkness.
She didn’t mind, but said I would have to do it immediately, otherwise, the porter would take the girl’s body to the morgue and she would no longer have authority to let me see her. I promised her I’d try to be back within the hour. It was a long drive to where I intended to go and I wasn’t entirely certain I’d find the girl I wanted to see.
I met Laura last October in a supermarket. She was trying to pay for her groceries but was so high she couldn’t sort the coins in her purse. In addition to the strong stench of alcohol, Laura had the drawn skeletal features of a drug addict.
Over a period of months I came to learn about her life. I didn’t see her regularly. On many occasions she’d send me text messages, asking me to come see her, but when I’d get there she was either not there, or had chosen not to respond to my knocking. This went on for almost four months. Over time, however, I began to piece together bits of information about Laura. Even in the hot summer sun, she always had her arms and legs completely covered.
One day as I sat with her in a park I noticed her ankles. They had horrific welts on the back, slightly above the heel. Although she had continually insisted that her problem was with alcohol, my suspicions were confirmed and I encouraged her to be truthful with me. She had been injecting heroin with her husband for the past two years.
But over the past couple of weeks there had been some dramatic changes taking place - some positive, and some frightening. Laura now has a place to live on her own. And she’s free of her drug addict husband. I physically carried him and his meagre belongings to the train station and purchased a one-way ticket to the town where his mother lived. And I prepared an application for a court order, on Laura’s behalf, to prevent him from coming near her.
A constable friend of mine helped by explaining to Laura’s husband, in the most graphic terms, what would happen to him should he come anywhere near her new home. Honestly, I think the only thing that really frightened him was the constable’s ‘aide memoire’ that he’d be unable to have access to any drugs at all.
It was with a mix of relief and caution that I was even able to get him on the train. I don’t think I would have been successful without him being high on whatever it was he was taking. I know he had been injecting himself with a mixture of heroin and amphetamines, so his behaviour was, at best, unpredictable.
I eventually found the small bedsit Laura had been given by the local council. There was a single bed, a miniature fridge that couldn’t hold much more than a pint of milk and some cheese, a chair, and an extremely old radio.
When Laura opened the door she was happy to see me. She put her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I actually shuddered as I felt the icy kiss of near death from her lips on my face. Her eyes had shrunk deep into their sockets, and as I put my hand on her arms to slightly guide her towards her chair, all I could feel were her bones, enveloped with loose tissue. It was truly as close as I could imagine to dealing with a deceased body several days old. And I noticed that she now looked quite jaundiced; suggesting possible hepatitis and liver disease, or worse.
I told Laura I wanted to take her somewhere with me this very moment and she’d have to leave now. She asked me where I was taking her. I told her it was a surprise. She didn’t argue. In fact, she was high from something. I noticed beneath the small fridge, several squares of aluminium foil, which is often a sign that someone had been burning heroin.
As we headed west towards the hospital, Laura told me how pleased she was that she now had a chance for a new life. During the drive she shared many stories about her husband and his addiction. But each time I asked her about her own addictions and her own participation in using heroin she tried to obfuscate the truth.
As I pulled up to the hospital's A&E entrance, Laura momentarily panicked. I quickly calmed her, explaining that I wasn’t kidnapping her and wasn’t going to try to admit her. I told her I just wanted her to meet a ‘friend.’ She asked me if it was someone I ‘visited,’ which I took to mean in the context of the way I visit her. I responded truthfully, no.
I asked at reception for Rachel. It was just a few short minutes before she came out. Rachel hugged me, which was nice because I noticed that Laura seemed to calm somewhat by seeing this gesture. I introduced Laura to Rachel as my friend. Rachel asked if we wanted to go in now. I said, ‘yes, please.’
Laura asked where we were going. I only said again that I wanted her to meet someone. Before Laura could respond we were standing directly outside the curtains surrounding the dead girl’s bed. I parted the curtains and gestured for Laura to step in.
I had thought about this moment as I drove to get Laura and I asked myself whether I was doing the right thing. I tried to imagine how much further the process of rigor mortis would have progressed over the hour I had been away. It was sufficient.
The girl’s mouth had expanded wide open, as if she were gagging. Her left eye was open and her right eye slightly so. Her body had ever so slightly begun to arch. Her head was turned in such a way as if she were looking directly at Laura as she stepped inside the curtained area.
I watched Laura’s face intently. At first I could she was trying to comprehend what she was seeing in the darkened area and her mouth opened to form the words to say ‘hello.’ But before she could utter a sound, the realisation overwhelmed her. She recoiled in fright. I stood directly beside Laura with my left arm behind her so she couldn’t back away from the bedside.
I introduced Laura to ‘Tina.’ I explained that Tina was a heroin addict ‘just like her.’ And tonight she died from taking heroin. I lifted the side of the bed sheet to reveal the girl’s arms. ‘You see, Laura,’ as I pointed to the girl’s arm, ‘she has track marks, collapsed veins, and rotting flesh just like yours.’ I left her arm uncovered and then pulled hard at the bottom of the sheet to reveal the girl’s ankles. ‘And you see, Laura, she has the same track marks that you have on your ankles and arms.’
Laura was trembling and her mouth was locked open, almost as if she were cruelly mocking the dead girl. But it was more of a silent scream. I told Laura to sit down in the chair beside the girl. She did as I told her, but then instantly jumped up when she realised that the girl’s head was tilted in her direction, as if death were staring directly at her.
I told Laura that I was going to step out for a moment to see the nurse and I’d be right back. Again Laura jumped up. She didn’t want me to leave her there. But I spoke to her forcefully and told her to ‘stay seated until I return.’
Rachel had been standing at the nursing station. I don’t think she had been able to hear what transpired. But I went out to thank her. I asked if I could come back later this week to arrange her mum’s memorial. She agreed that it had been too hectic a night and she wasn’t in the mindset to do it now.
I went back to Laura. Before I moved the curtain back, I heard Laura sobbing. As I opened the curtain Laura turned from looking at the girl to me. She asked me why her mouth and eyes were open. I explained that this was often a natural process of death. She asked if ‘Tina’ could see her. I told her not in the way she imagined, but yes. And I added that she could hear her as well if she would care to say anything to her.
Laura started crying again. She repeatedly spoke to the girl saying how sorry she was. I asked her if she would like to say a prayer for ‘Tina.’ Laura said she didn’t know how and she had never read ‘any book’ about saying prayers. I told her God never uses books anyway – He’d much prefer her to say what she felt. I asked Laura if she would like me to step out. She said ‘please.’
It wasn’t intentional, but I did hear what Laura said. Her tear-choked voice carried through the empty darkened resuscitation suite.
As I drove her back to her room, Laura asked me what would now happen to ‘Tina.’ I explained that ‘Tina’s’ mother was dead and as best I understood, the hospital had no one further to contact regarding her death. She pressed me to tell her what would become of Tina.
I asked Laura why she wanted to know. She said she was afraid that ‘Tina’ would be forgotten about. I asked her if she thought she’d forget ‘Tina.’ Laura looked at me with a mixture of incredulity and anger. She blurted out ‘I know why you brought me here tonight.’ I asked her ‘why did I then, Laura?’
She began crying harder than she had at hospital. I pulled over and stopped the car. I quietly asked Laura if this was how she saw her life ending. She wept uncontrollably. She said she was frightened. – and that ‘what I made her see was the worst thing she had ever seen in her life.’ I told her that all I had done this evening was to hold up a mirror for her.
She wept bitterly and between her sobs she kept repeating that she didn’t want to die like this. I asked her what would ‘we’ need to do to make certain this didn’t happen. Laura said she needed to ‘see someone.’ I asked her if I could take her to a drug addiction centre the following morning. She said ‘please.’
It was close to 2am when I dropped Laura off. I told her I’d come for her at 9. I sent her a text message at 0830 this morning, reminding her that I was coming to collect her. When I arrived she was standing outside waiting for me.
As we made the long drive to the drug crisis centre, Laura asked me if I would sit with her when she first spoke with someone. I promised her that I would.
I should imagine when someone is trying to save a sinking ship, they’re not going to bicker about how the ship is saved, as long as it remains above water. I’m not necessarily at odds with myself over the methodology I’ve used in this instance, especially as I believe, without reserve, that Laura’s life is in precarious balance. Only time will tell how far into the abyss she has fallen.
And now, I can find hope believing that ‘Tina’s’ life has left a powerful memory for good, rather than sorrow.
Labels: emergency help for someone addicted, Father Bill Haymaker, helping with addictions, ways to get off drugs, words of comfort for addicted people, words to say to someone who is addicted to drugs