Dead Addicts Don't Recover

By DSelden 10/08/19

Last week*, I watched a kid die on the sidewalk outside my office. Luckily, one of my colleagues is really good at CPR and was able to revive her.

The kid was outside smoking a cigarette with another client when she pitched over and began a grand mal seizure. The other client ran inside and yelled for help. One of us called 911 immediately, another knelt by her side and cradled her head so it did not bang on the pavement. My colleague was holding her on her side so she didn’t swallow her tongue when she felt her shut off. I was kneeling next to them, in case we needed to switch off on the CPR when I saw the young girl go slack. Her heart stopped beating and her lungs stopped pumping and her eyes rolled back in her head. My colleague rolled her on to her back and began chest compressions. We both began yelling her name real loud to see if that helped. Somehow I knew she wasn’t going to die. Maybe that was just my denial of what was happening. But she is young and strong and after about 20 seconds she began to breath again. She stood up and walked into the ambulance when it arrived a few minutes later.

It’s not the first time this has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last. She is only sixteen, a real good student in High School comes from a solid family and has lots of advantages.  But none of that is enough to get her to stop drinking and using whatever pills she can find in medicine cabinets. This includes her parent’s medicine cabinet, her friend’s parent’s medicine cabinets and even the medicine cabinet of her grandfather who is prescribed opiates for his cancer pain.

Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do to help my clients. I can’t stop them from using alcohol or other drugs despite ample evidence that it is a terrible idea. We talk about how this stuff can kill them and most of the time they tell me they want to stop but somehow they are just not ready yet to do all the hard work necessary for complete recovery.

I repeat over and over: “Dead addicts don’t recover”. I am trained to administer CPR and Narcan. I make sure my staff has the same training. This knowledge helps me stick with my clients and keep them alive, until they can grab hold of recovery and make it stick.

When I meet with their parents I don’t have good news for them. I tell them there is no way they can totally prevent their child from using drugs.  I tell them all they can do is set limits and wait for recovery to take hold. I know they want to take action. I tell them the best thing they can do is be patient.

I have been a social worker for forty five years. The word “worker” implies that I take action. The hardest thing is to remain available without taking action.  It feels so powerless. But so many people have told me they are grateful for my patience and encouragement. They tell me they appreciate waiting for them.  I can deal with the feelings of powerlessness because ultimately, when I do have the chance to help, I know it works. And that keeps me going.

*times, personal descriptions and details have been altered to maintain confidentiality. Everything here is based on real events.


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