My dad overdosed and was brought to the hospital 6 times before his fatal visit. I must’ve spent over 30 hrs in total on the phone with nurses, doctors, but primarily case workers. The calls with doctors and nurses were often cut short. Because of policies put into place to protect peoples privacy, anything I wanted to find out about my dad was denied. Me providing information on my dads history with addiction, suicide attempts, and my dads severe depression were not acknowledged well. It wasn’t the nurses fault and I knew they could hear the frustration in my voice, but they knew they had to follow policy. It made it very clear that policy changes were needed and quickly.
One of the last times my dad was in the hospital, he didn’t wake for 2 weeks. When he finally awoke I called and begged to talk to him. Because of his embarrassment of what had happened, he denied my calls and told the nurses not to release any information. Even after explaining that he was at high risk for suicide, I was told that I had two choices. Call and get him sectioned or let him make his own choices. He was finally in the place where he could get the help he needed, but there wasn’t a system in place for him to get that proper, specific care.
I’m sure that my dads case isn’t the only one either.
I was visiting a friend at the restaurant I used to work at and there was a couple sitting at the bar. They were visiting from Indiana for their anniversary and looked so in love. I began chatting with them and I discovered they were in the business of saving peoples lives. She was a nurse and he was an EMT. I went to High School and prom with the EMT that saved my dad’s life on multiple of his overdoses and his wife is also a nurse. I knew that both jobs were extremely difficult. I thanked the couple at the bar, mentioning the couple from High School that I admire, and our conversation got deeper. I told them about my dad. The woman said something very true to me. She said, “As a nurse, we get a lot of people who come in from overdoses. It’s really hard for some of the nurses to feel obligated to help them. A lot of them think, ‘if they don’t want to help themselves why should I want to help them?’, or ‘they’ll just be back again.’ They don’t get the same care as other patients do and it’s true a lot of them are back sometimes even in the same day. But what I like to think anytime I see someone who is struggling with addiction is what kind of pain this person must’ve gone through to be where they are right now. I think about how broken and hurt they must be and that every single person has a story. It makes me try harder to be a better nurse and I know these people are really strong for what they must’ve gone through.”
She was an amazing human and an incredible nurse, but what about the people who don’t have that experience or outlook like her? What if a nurse really doesn’t connect to someone struggling with addiction? It doesn’t mean they’re not as good of a nurse or as good of a human. It really just takes proper training and a bit of understanding. Even after talking to nurses who were tired from my taking care of my dad, (trust me he is a handful!) once I explained a little more about our situation and explained how good of a dad he really was they were always a little bit more patient and responsive.
Being a nurse is the most honorable job I’ve ever seen. Over the summer I lived with a roommate who was a nurse. She always had a smile on her face and no matter what she was always in a great mood and asked me about my day. She probably had 100 things going on at work and in her own life, but she cared about people more than herself. I think that’s a quality of nurses that make them superheroes. So to ask of a nurse to give another 100% to people that try to refuse the help or on the other hand demand medication, it’s really hard. But with the proper training and policy changes, I have no doubt these compassionate, super-human healers would absolutely be wonderful at helping improve conditions of the epidemic and help in the fight to end the stigma.
My dad was really open about his recovery, despite his privacy in the hospital. When he was sober he told me about a specific doctor that he loved seeing. He said to me, “I just love that she doesn’t look at me different. I just feel like I can be honest and open with her and she won’t talk to me like I’m any less of a human. It gives me hope.” I love that Doctor for the work that she is doing and I wish I knew her name. Doctors are brilliant humans as well. It’s hard for anyone to have an open and nonjudgemental conversation when it’s not something they’re comfortable talking about.
Once doctors, nurses, and policy makers understand why they should care and what impact it’ll have on the epidemic and quite frankly the nation, I think we’ll be in a much better place. We all want to be better humans and better at our jobs, and sometimes we just need someone to show us why.
I’m happy to see so much progress by nonprofits like Shatterproof making change to the health care policies. After the Shatterproof 5k in Boston, I was inspired by Michael Botticelli, Executive Director of The Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and Darshak Sanghavi, CMO of Optum Labs for their commitment to change. I am especially proud of Shatterproof CEO, Mendell, for nationally advocating for this change and partnering with such people who walk the walk.
If you have a story about healthcare and addiction and you’d like to share please do so in the comments below or email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always here to talk.