In February of 2006 I found myself on the fifth floor of a Tampa Florida hospital after a long night of drinking. I awoke to find that I had earned myself; a mouth full of broke teeth, a broken nose, a hole in my upper lip that had to be sewn shut, multiple facial lacerations, a shattered hip with subsequent paralysis in my left leg and, most importantly, my first shot of intravenous opiates.
Two years and three months later I found myself in that same hospital, on that same floor working as a registered nurse.
The clearest memory I have of my first day on the job is of me looking down at two pills in my hand after leaving a patient’s room. They were simple. Round and white. Percocet I think.
I remember the way they felt in my hand. I walked out of the patient’s room after he said he didn’t need them and I looked down at those boring-looking pills and thought for a second about asking someone what to do with unwanted meds, but then a light turned on. That blinding light illuminated every ugly detail of the dark and lurid cave that I would find myself descending into for the year that followed.
The meds were signed out.
The patient didn’t need them.
The pills got heavier in my hand.
The decision to take them home came very naturally. I don’t recall a lot of back and forth in my mind. I put them in my pocket then after work I swallowed them with a cold beer then watched television and went to sleep.
Now, four sober years later, I think back to why I chose nursing in the first place and it makes sense. Drugs and women. I remember saying that I wanted to go to nursing school as a joke one day but had no intention of actually doing it. I was pursuing a career as a musician at the time. I believe that when I made that joke a seed was planted in my subconscious mind and those surly little demons I carry around with me grabbed ahold of it and nurtured it until it grew into a reality. I failed as a musician. I succeeded; however, in finding a job that afforded me just as many opportunities to indulge in my vices. Ask ten out of ten nurses why they chose nursing and you will get the same answer; to help people. Ask me and I will tell you that a very dark energy tugged at my soul and dragged me to the health care field. I was driven by selfish and ugly desires. I wish that I could say something different, something noble, but I can’t.
After I was fully amerced in my addiction a strange thing began to happen. I started to see dirty little pieces of myself in other nurses. I noticed facial expressions and postures and behaviors that looked and felt like my own. I wasn’t sure if my insights were created by paranoia or if they were valid so I started to listen.
I started to talk.
To ask questions.
Then my eyes started to open.
The smiling faces that hurriedly paced up and down the halls masked parasitic monsters all locked in their own private worlds of agony and desperation. The polite banter and friendly hello’s in the nurse’s office hid the screams of torment that really wanted to beg for more, more, more! By no stretch of the imagination was I the only one. We were all vampires.
Roxicodone is a pill that is a potent concentration of the narcotic agent found in drugs like Percocet called oxycodone. Where a Percocet might have five or seven and a half milligrams of oxycodone, a Roxicodone (or Roxy) has thirty. The nurses on the floor where I worked used Roxys like most people use coffee. Pain killers take all the guessing out of whether or not you’re going to have a good day. With enough drugs in your system you can handle pretty much anything.
Aches and pains from moving three hundred pound patients? Gone.
Anxiety from being screamed at by doctors and disgruntled family members? Gone.
To be honest, there isn’t much you can’t handle.
Once you learn this it’s very hard to forget.
So Florida had these places nicknamed “pill-mills”. A pill-mill is a “doctor’s” office attached to a pharmacy where you can pay the doctor a hundred bucks for a prescription for whatever you want then get it filled right there. At the time of this story there were no regulations in Florida as far as how many pain killers could be prescribed at a time. You could go to the pill-mill, pay the doctor one hundred dollars, get a script for two hundred and thirty Roxys, sell seven of them at fifteen dollars apiece to more than make your money back then have two hundred and twenty-three Roxys for nothing more than the cost of getting your script filled and the gas to get you there. After the nurses I worked with taught me about the mills, needless to say, things took a downward turn. I would snort or shoot the pills at home and at work I would indulge in my newfound love for intravenous Dilaudid. I fell hard for Dilaudid. If I were to compare IV Dilaudid to Morphine, I would say that two milligrams of Dilaudid would be the same as twenty of Morphine.
After surgery a lot of my patients would have an order for between two to four milligrams of IV Dilaudid every four hours as needed for pain. Typically, a nurse would pull the Dilaudid a few times per patient, per shift. I never, ever, denied any of my patients anything they wanted or needed; I want to make that very clear. What I would do was pull the drug every four hours for every patient regardless of whether or not they asked for it. Say I had six patients and I pulled four milligrams every four hours for every one of those patients. That is a total of seventy-five milligrams of pure IV Dilaudid. Even if I gave three quarters of what I pulled I would still have eighteen milligrams for myself.
Before I became a nurse I had healthy fear of needles. In fact, I used to pass out after almost any interaction with a needle whatsoever. In a matter of two or three months I found myself threading my veins with a large gauge needle without a second thought. Not only did I not mind it, I looked forward to it. I loved it. It’s strange, the places that you can learn to find comfort. While at work I preferred to shoot the drugs intramuscular since it came on slower and lasted longer but on my way home from work I would stop by the same gas station every day, get a six pack of beer, then shoot up in the parking lot before driving home. After I got home I would drink, shoot, snort and take pills until I fell asleep never really knowing if I was going to wake up. Not really caring at that point.
Despite the fact that I remained under the influence of narcotics throughout every shift, I became, and remained, an above-average employee. The drugs allowed me to work longer hours and to take on more work than I would have been able to handle otherwise. The real trouble began when I tried to stop. I had pretty much unlimited access to pretty much any drug you can imagine and the way I saw it, there had to be one that could help me come off the opiates. I tried; synthetic opiates, amphetamines, anti-psychotics, barbiturates, methadone and THC just to name a few. Then came the benzo’s. The benzodiazepines brought me to the brink of death on more than one occasion. The problem was that I never stopped the opiates. My plan was to start the new drugs and wean myself off the hard stuff but it never worked out that way. I was simply adding new drugs on top of the opiates and alcohol. The benzo’s, coupled with the opiates, took away my ability to function and from that point on my memory is very unclear.
There were multiple car wrecks, shooting up other nurses in the bathroom at work, nodding off at work, falling asleep at home with lit cigarettes, unprotected sex with multiple women, late night phone calls crying, lying, cheating, stealing, broken promises, broken hearts, trips to the hospital, violent muscle spasms, constipation, insomnia, blackouts, confusion.
For most people, the only ways out of serious drug addiction are death or prison. Nurses have another option and they are called monitoring programs; each state has one. With my affinity for excess I truly believe that, had I not gotten clean, I would have died an early death and had I never made that odd decision to become a nurse I never would have gotten clean.
After a particularly bad night at work that I had to be sent home due to my inability to keep my eyes open, the charge nurse on my floor ratted me out. She, and some of the other nurses, got together and told the nurse manager about my erratic behavior and my nodding off during my shifts. The subsequent pharmacy reports showed that I had taken out more than three times the amount of Dilaudid and Morphine that the average nurse did. This was hard to explain when I was confronted with the numbers during an intervention meeting with my boss. Despite the thousands of dollars in medications I took, the police were never involved. Instead, I was referred to the monitoring program that gave me the choice between sobriety and losing my license if I was non-compliant. I chose to get sober.
It was just before the end that I learned that I was going to be a father. The way I saw it, the threat of losing my license was a threat to my child’s future, so I did what I was told. I stopped the drugs. On my own.
I had diarrhea.
My only companion, other than my dogs, was an overwhelming sense of guilt and regret some of which I still carry with me today.
As the weeks and months passed it got a little easier; I started to get better. Eventually I even quit smoking and started exercising regularly and eating right. At some point I realized that I was going to be this child’s hero no matter what type of person I decided to be so I decided to become a person that I would like to see him become. Do I have regrets? More than most. Do I think my story would have had a happy ending had things happened differently? Absolutely not.