A dead man’s morphine

As I sat at my desk contemplating mankind’s fascination with mind altering substances a crisis occurred in a home on the other side of the city.  My penchant for opiates and laudanum notwithstanding, it never fails to fascinate me how we as a species are willing to dance on the threshold of death’s doorway, bloodstream filled with substances that dull our senses, distort time and deaden emotion.

Perhaps this last is why we take such chances with our lives, for this can be a trying existence.

“Rescue 1 and Engine 12, respond to 323 Joseph Street for a man unconscious.”

I subdued my melancholy immediately and hit the pole, opening the overhead doors to Baker Street and waited for my erstwhile partner, Dr. Watson.

Ten seconds later he appeared, opened the drivers side door to the Ford F-450 and climbed aboard.

“Dr.  Watson, well, met,” I said as we roared out of The Yard and sped toward our victim. “Another game is afoot!”

“You look rested, Holmes, the break did you good.”

“Never enough my good friend, rest is an elusive fish I can never seem to fully grasp.”

“Engine 12 to Fire Alarm, we have a thirty year old male, unconscious, no trauma.”

“Receive that Rescue 1?”

“Rescue 1, received.”

“Odd. An overdose in that neighborhood is unusual,” said Dr. Watson as we sped toward the victims home.

“Unusual, yes, but not unprecedented. Recall if you will the grandmother whose bottle of pain pills mysteriously vanished an hour before her bout of unconsciousness.”

“One never knows the depths of despair a person will try to wrench themselves from with pharmaceuticals.”

“Indeed.” I keyed the mic as we rolled to a stop in front of a gracious colonial, well kept lawn leading to a brightly lit doorway where a frantic young woman waved.

“Rescue 1 on scene.”

“At 2344.”

Watson retrieved the necessary equipment for extrication from a rear compartment, I slung the med bag over my shoulder and hurriedly walked the walk toward the unconscious male.

“When was he last seen awake?” I asked the young woman at the door.

“About eleven thirty. We were playing cards with some friends, he seemed tired, then he just fell asleep. We can’t wake him up, Hurry!”

In the kitchen a couple stood off to the side, near the refrigerated as the crew from Engine Co. 12 assessed and treated the young, unconscious male.

“Glucose 128, BP 96/50, respirations at 6. Looks like an overdose but I don’t see and tracks or evidence,” said Lieutenant Lestrade, the man in command of the crew of firefighters.

“Look more closely, ” I said.

The unconscious man’s friends stated that he did not take drugs, and never did. Nonetheless I had Dr. Watson draw up a vial of narcan and immediately administer 2 mg through the IV the firefighters had established.

“What are you doing! He needs to get to a hospital!” the nervous wife shouted, and her friends agreed as the patient’s color faded and he stopped breathing.

We bagged him then, forcing life-sustaining oxygen into his lungs, keeping his 02 levels above 90.

“I’m afraid your friend has overdosed,” I said to the concerned group.

“Impossible! Preposterous! You fools!” they responded. “How dare you accuse this fine, upstanding young man of using illicit drugs!

“Elementary,” I responded as the patient began breathing of his own accord. “There is a walker in the corner, near the door. It has not been used recently, but not long ago enough for cobwebs to form. The obituary on the refrigerator, dated last week indicates that this young man lost somebody close, and the dead man’s date of birth puts him at an age to be the father of this very young man!” I pointed to the victim who was now shaking cobwebs of a different sort from his drug addled mind. “In addition, there is a faint odor of a medicinal nature that lingers here, I have surmised that you cared for the person who died, right up until his dying breath?”

She looked at me then, pain in her eyes, but relief as well as her mate regained consciousness. “My father in law died here last week. He was a wonderful man, he died of cancer.”

“I am very sorry for your loss, I said. “Was he medicated?”

“Morphine. Sublingual. We put a dropper under his toung every four hours.”

The young man who just returned from the other side looked sheepishly at the floor, then reached into his pocket and handed me an empty vial. I clasped my fingers around it, nodded my head knowingly in what I hoped was a gesture of understanding and not accusation and put it into my pocket. Dr. Watson and the firefighters cleaned up and returned our gear to our apparatuses, which gave me a moment alone with the young group.

“Sadness propels us to do things we would otherwise never consider. You will not be the first, nor the last to indulge in a dead persons medication. Some don’t have the courtesy to wait until the person needing the narcotics dies, and help themselves to it while their loved one suffers in silence. May I suggest you find somebody to talk to, clergy, a therapist or even a friend. There were almost two deaths in this home this week, had we arrived a few moments later the outcome would not be a lecture, but a body bag.”

We talked for some time, finally coming to the conclusion that this was a terrible mistake, a grief stricken young man dulling his senses with his father’s medication. He had put a drop under his tongue every hour for the last five, sometimes more than one drop. It nearly cost him his life.

“Stay close to him, take care of him tonight, and get help tomorrow,” I said as we departed, never fully comfortable in these scenarios, but confident enough that the best course of action is family help rather than an emergency room full of drunken college kids, gunshot victims, blood soaked stabbing recipients and the like.

  1. As Watson and I drove back to Baker Street, evidence of the fragility of our existence and frailty of our sanity weighed heavily upon us.

“What madness allows a man to take his dead father’s medication,” asked Watson as the midnight hour came and went. As the hands of the clock pass twelve, an eerie calm descends on the city, lasting sometimes an hour, sometimes a minute, but it is discernable, and I am always grateful for the reprive.

“The same madness that allows a fifty-nine year old father to be taken before his time, my good friend. The madness of existence.”

We rode in silence then, I filled my pipe with a sweet Turkish blend, and stared down, into the bowl as I puffed, mesmerized by the glowing tobacco and comforted by the familiar aroma as smoke swirled wistfully through the cabin.


1 Comment

  • Bill says:

    Cute story but really, leaving a pt after near fatal Morphine OD. Check 1/2 life of Narcan vs: Morphine. My MD director would have us in his office so fast, I would be doing a 4 minute mile.

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