How Did It Start?—Ruth
Her Brother’s Viewpoint—Jeremy
Medical Treatment—Dr. Brooks
Was It Successful?—Ruth Again
How Did It Start?—Mike
His Friend’s Viewpoint—Ricardo
Medical Treatment—Dr. Jackson
Was It Successful?—Mike Again
How Did It Start?—Carol
Her Children’s Viewpoint—Carol’s Children
Medical Treatment—Dr. Jackson
Was It Successful?—Carol Again
When I was little, I was such a good kid. I followed all of the rules. I did what people told me. Then, things changed. When I was 14, a friend and I would sneak out and go to parties. It was amazing that we never got caught. But the kids that I wanted to hang out with at the parties were smoking cigarettes and drinking, so I did, too. It helped me feel like I belonged. When I was 16, I smoked pot for the first time. My friends and I toked up before school. It took the edge off of the day. Then I started experimenting with other drugs that summer.
By the end of my senior year, I can’t believe I was doing heroin. It was costing me $75 a day just to keep from feeling sick. I was working part-time at a restaurant then, but it wasn’t bringing me enough money to buy the heroin I needed. So I borrowed from anybody who had money. Ray, my boyfriend, took off because he got sick of me asking him for money to buy drugs. My other friends told me to get clean or get lost. I got lost. The week Ray left, I got fired from my job for stealing money out of the till. After that, each day had one goal, to get money to buy heroin. I shoplifted. I stole from my mother’s purse. I did some other things, too, that I can’t even talk about because it just makes me so sad. I got arrested twice for shoplifting. I tried to quit heroin maybe 100 times, but the withdrawal was so, so bad, I couldn’t. I was ready to give up. If it wasn’t for my brother, Jeremy, I’d be dead now.
Ruth was a really athletic kid when we were younger. She was strong for a little sister, fun to be with. I don’t know what happened to her in high school. Once when she was 16, she came home drunk and asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint with her. I took it and flushed it. Ruth begged me not to tell mom and dad, and I didn’t. I said I would if it happened again. I didn’t see her much after she graduated from high school. I worked in another city and hardly got home.
About four years ago, my grandmother died and I came home for the funeral. Ruth was there. I didn’t recognize her at first. She looked like she was old. She was pale and thin. Her hair was straight. She was shaking. It was terrible. After the funeral, we went for a walk. I got her something to eat and she ate like she hadn’t eaten in a week. And then, she just broke down and started crying. She said she was so sorry and that she wanted to die. I talked her into going to a drug rehab clinic the next day because I knew if I didn’t, she’d be dead. I stayed up all night with her and made sure she got to the clinic. The next time I saw her, it was about six months after that. She almost looked like her old self again. She said she was clean. She said she’d stay that way forever.
Ruth’s history is pretty typical. She got started in her early teens smoking and drinking. Possibly, she was trying to fit in and be part of a social scene. She tried marijuana, experimented with psychedelics, and finally ended up addicted to heroin.
When her brother brought her in here to us, she was in bad shape. She had scarred veins and abscesses on her arms and legs but, luckily, no major infections like hepatitis or HIV. A lot of the young people who come in here have been living on the streets for so long doing heroin. You can see the look in their eyes. They’ve given up. It’s like they’re already dead. Ruth was almost there. We started her right off on methadone treatment and got her into our group counseling program. She liked the group, felt like she belonged because she had the same experiences as these other people. She really started to take back control of her life.
After she left, she kept up the methadone treatment and kept seeing her therapist every month. She followed the treatment and stayed clean. Ruth’s parents got counseling, too, so they could help support her. I heard from her counselor that she got into college and was getting good grades. She had a new set of friends that encouraged her athletic ability. She liked to run, did a few local 10-Ks. I saw her during that time and she looked great, the picture of health. Then she relapsed.
My wind is almost back to where it was when I ran the All City 10-K a couple of years ago. I came in second. It felt so great to succeed at something. Ironically, it was because of my win that some friends of mine from high school invited me to a party that night. I figured Miss Champion could handle anything, so I went. I should have left the minute I saw people taking drugs. I stuck around thinking I could handle it, but it was like my body went on automatic. I did some coke at the party. That night, I shot up for the first time in three years.
Within two months, I was using as much as I had been before I quit. One night, I tried to jump out my fifth-floor window, but was too weak to open it. I called Jeremy, poor guy. I woke him up and told him I was using again. He told me he loved me and begged me to go back to the treatment center the next day. I started treatment again, methadone and counseling. My parents have been really supportive, too. I got back into running, got back into school, got friends who don’t do anything stronger than coffee. Sometimes I still feel scared and want to escape. But the only running I do now is right here.
I played little league ball when I was a kid. I was a fanatic about baseball. Towards the end of my last season, I started feeling pretty sick, so sick I even missed a bunch of games. My mom thought it was puberty, but it kept up. I felt tired and was always thirsty. Finally, my mom took me to the doctor and they did a bunch of tests. They told me I had type-I diabetes. My body didn’t have enough insulin, so I couldn’t process sugar. They said if I didn’t treat it, it could kill me. It was scary.
It just becomes a part of your life. It’s not that big of a deal. That summer, I went to a camp for kids with diabetes. They helped me learn all of the stuff that I had to do, like inject myself with insulin three or four times a day, eat regular meals, and get regular exercise. It wasn’t so bad. I made one really good friend at camp, Ricardo. He was a baseball fanatic, too. For the first year or two after camp, we’d hang out a lot, talk about girls, baseball, music, and having diabetes. Mostly, we talked about the girls, though. For a couple of years, anyway, everything seemed to be going okay.
I met Mike at camp. We were both from the same city, so we hooked up right away. Camp was good. All of us had diabetes, so it became no big deal. Mike and I talked about everything, diabetes, baseball, girls, and music. I played the guitar then, too. Mike would goof off and make up weird tunes with me. He was good with music. But what he really liked was baseball. He was seriously taking care of his diabetes so he could stay healthy and play high school ball.
After camp was over, we hung out a lot. Then a couple of years later, Mike started to change. He got his driver’s license. He started taking me and our friends out to fast food places. Mike knew that shakes, fries, and burgers would throw his and my blood sugar way out of whack, but he just wanted to be like everybody else. He got a little sick, not a big deal. But he just kept doing it. I knew that my body couldn’t handle it, so I had to quit hanging out with him.
Then one Saturday night, his parents had to take him to the emergency room because his blood sugar level was way high. And after that, I’d get a few e-mails from him talking about how bad he was doing in school and how tired he was. But it was like he didn’t care. I tried to go over and stuff, but he just didn’t want to anymore.
Mike, yes, I remember Mike, a young kid with type-I diabetes, right? Here he is. I got to see a lot of him in the emergency room a couple of years back. His parents would bring him in. It seems like he couldn’t resist burgers, fries, shakes, and sodas. The first time he came in, his blood sugar level was over 600 milligrams per deciliter. He was weak and confused, breathing fast. We gave him intravenous fluids and insulin. I remember talking to the parents. They were worried sick about him. He wouldn’t listen to anybody. His grades were lousy because he was tired all of the time. All he said he had energy for was watching television.
The last time he came in here, I laid it out for him. “There’s no reason you can’t get this under control,” I said. I told him he could go blind, have kidney failure, or end up with heart disease if he didn’t get his act together. I laid out a very clear treatment plan. I haven’t seen him lately, so hopefully, that means he’s getting it under control.
The last time I was in the hospital a few years ago, the doctor really shook me up. She said I could go blind or have kidney failure or get heart disease if I didn’t get my diabetes under control. She asked me if I thought it was fair to all of the people that loved me to let myself go like that. She said it was about time I took some responsibility for my life and started taking care of myself. I had IVs all sticking out of my arm. My mom was crying and my dad was all bummed out.
The doc spent a lot of time with me. She said she knew lots of type-I diabetics that had a social life without killing themselves and that I could, too. She got my whole family set up to see a specialist again. He got me back on a diet where I eat regularly and do regular exercise. It wasn’t easy going back to checking my blood sugar all of the time, but I got a lot of help from my mom and dad.
I got a hold of my friend Ricardo from camp again. He’s been helping me get through some of the rough times. But I feel like that was then and this is now. And I’m doing great now. For me, it was just paying attention to my body and dealing with who I am and taking care that’s made all the difference.
I always thought hypertension was what I got when a customer at the bank got mad and started yelling at me. Last year, I found out that hypertension has nothing to do with being tense. It’s high blood pressure and I’ve got it. Lucky me. When I woke up yesterday, my vision was blurry and I couldn’t speak like I normally do. My kids kept telling me I was slurring my words. That scared me, so I went to my doctor. She put me here in the hospital for some tests. Now the doctors tell me I had a mild stroke. How could this happen to me?
I should have listened to my doctor when she told me that hypertension, high blood pressure, was serious. She told me it was treatable and gave me medicine. She talked to me about changing my diet, mostly cutting out salt. She said I needed regular exercise and if I did all of that stuff, I would be fine. At first, I was good about low salt, and I started jogging. Then there was a lot of stress at work, and at night, all I felt like doing was plopping down in front of the television, watching something funny and snacking. I didn’t feel like eating healthy. I must have forgotten to take my medicine a few times, too. I feel so tired.
Rene: Mom is too young to have a stroke. She could have died, Brad.
Brad: Don’t say that. It’s not that big a deal. She would be okay if she does what the doctor says.
Rene: That’s what they said the last time, remember? Things were going so well. And then she started getting stressed out over work, I guess. It’s my last year at school. I wanted her to be so proud of me.
Brad: It’s not about you, Rene.
Rene: I mean, I just wanted her to see me run in the track final. I wanted her to help me pick out a prom dress. I wanted her to not be so sick. It’s like she stopped caring.
Brad: It’s because she’s tired all the time.
Rene: And really touchy, too. When’s the last time she let you bring your friends home after school? And when’s the last time she came to one of your games? When’s the last time you’ve seen her laugh or smile? She didn’t do what the doctor said, so she’s been sick. She missed your game, missed my track meet, missed a lot of work, missed everything.
Brad: She missed getting her promotion at the bank.
Rene: I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told us she had a stroke. I was so scared.
Brad: She’s going to be okay,
Rene. So are we. We’re going to be okay. We can help her get better. I mean, can’t we?
When Carol came in for her checkup, I was alarmed by her blood pressure. It was somewhere around 160 over 105. Now, you have to understand that 130 over 85 is really the top of the normal range. So her blood pressure was definitely high. I checked it again the following week just to make sure. And it was 150 over 95, way, way to high. So I laid it out for her. This is serious business. Everybody thinks, “High blood pressure, what’s the big deal? Lots of people have that.” No, I told her. “This is life threatening.” See, lots of times, the symptoms don’t appear until the damage, like getting a heart attack or a stroke, is done. That’s why they call it the “silent killer.” But I told her it was treatable, skip the salt, trim down the weight, exercise, take medication. They can all help get your blood pressure back to normal.
The next time I saw her, we took her blood pressure, and it was right back up there. In fact, it was higher than before. She told me she’d slacked off on the advice I had given her. She said it was too hard. I told her she had to get a handle on this or it would kill her. Now, that got her attention, I thought. I referred her to a nutritionist and a psychologist to help her stick with the plan. She’s independent, though. She thought she could do it all on her own. Yesterday, she was here, in the ER, with a mild stroke. She could have died.
I could have died just because I didn’t take care of myself. What would my kids do? Maybe it’s too late now to do anything. Maybe the damage is done. What will they do with an invalid for a mother? The trouble is, I’ve been so self-reliant that sometimes it’s just too much. Take care of the kids, go to work, eat a special diet, work out. Who has the time? The nurse said I should just try to relax, not get upset. But I just feel like I’ve let everybody down. What good am I to anyone here in the hospital? And what good will I do when I get out? Rene is graduating, and there is so much to do to get ready. And Brad, I don’t want to miss him growing up.
I guess I am lucky in a weird way. It could have been a lot worse. There’s no reason I can’t cut back on the salt, take medication, and work out a couple of times a week. There’s no reason I can’t turn this back around.