Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everybody has a story. . . .

Ever drive down a major street in a large metropolitan city and witnessed someone erratically walking by with that dazed, drug-addicted look in their eyes? Or better yet, have you ever encountered someone who was giving you this long, drawn out story about how their car broke down, etc. and if only you could give them $5, it would be okay. . . .yet you know from the vacant look on their face that it is likely drugs? Yeah, well if you haven't then just take a trip to downtown Atlanta.

I see so, so many people whose lives have been ruined by drugs, particularly crack cocaine. The most disturbing part about it is that the majority of them look like me- black and female. It really, really sucks. . .and it can be really frustrating at times. But every now and then, I am reminded that every single one of the people I have met or cared for who uses crack cocaine has their very own story.

I was rounding recently and one of my patients, hospitalized for multiple things all of which were complicated by the fact that she was homeless and addicted to crack, had a sad look on her face that morning. When I asked her what was wrong, she gave me a half-hearted smile with a shoulder shrug and told me, "Today is my 30th birthday." Then I noticed this yellow legal pad on the tray table. She had scribbled down all about what she wished this day could be like instead and how much she wished her life could be different. We talked for a while, and I learned a lot about her. Then I thought about my 30th birthday. . . .a fabulous weekend laughing on South Beach with two of my good friends. . . .riding around in a convertible, basking in the Miami sun and sipping mojitos. . . .meeting my best friend, Lisa, in Atlanta afterward for even more celebrating. It was unforgettable.

As soon as I walked out of her room, I burst into tears. That happens to me more often than I should probably admit. (I keep waiting for this point in my career where I will become stoic and unaffected.) Crack cocaine is awful. It is a horrible, ruthless thief that robs young and gifted people of so much promise. And I see it every single day at work. Be glad if it has never occurred to you to try crack, and feel thankful if your family cherished you growing up. If that's your story, count yourself blessed. A lot of folks never even get a fighting chance- and if only they did, they might have gone on to do such great things. The late Keith Haring immortalized this truth in his art (pictured above), and Whitney Houston said it best in her latenight chat with Diane Sawyer- "Crack is wack." Talk about an understatement.

Anyways. . .the next time you see someone who clearly looks like they are "on something" just take a minute to ask yourself. . . "What's her story? How'd he end up like that? What are her talents? What did he want to be when he grew up?" And then, if that's your thing. . . .say a little prayer just for them. I know I do all the time. . . . . .

Like many of my unstably housed patients, this one went back to a downtown homeless shelter when she was discharged. . . . .where a large number of the folks there use crack. Damn.

*patient permission obtained to be subject of blog

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