Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Last Picture Show

Many years ago when I was working in a psychiatric office and being cheated out of 60 grand a year, I had a particularly rough week. I dealt with chronic pain patients, for whom there was no hope, and drug addicts, most of whom read like a top of the list cast for politics, medicine and corporate America in SoFl. I actually managed to help the chronic pain patients, a lot of which were workman's compensation cases. Companies are not big on safety. Then one of the workman's comp injured drunks (a normal qualification in the construction trade) in an effort to keep his benefits as he had 3 kids, claimed in court under oath that the reason he stopped coming to therapy was I had forced him to remain in a chair when he was in extreme pain to finish the session. The exact opposite had occured. I had tried to stop the session numerous times because he was in pain. However, I was not called into court or questioned and was suspended from working with workman's compensation clients with no review: nothing. No one in the office even bothered to tell me what had happened. I found out through another patient upset their therapy had been cancelled.
So, as I sat in my professor's office, I was not only pretty down, but I just didn't feel like I could finish the week. Here I was, working full time to pay for my graduate courses and going to college full time to get the degree so I could get a better certification to help my clients. I was just plain tired. Some nights I just fell into bed too tired to kill myself. But I managed to get up every morning and start again. I was having a really hard time coming up with a reason not to quit and go back into a higher paying field like advertising.
My professor took out his wallet and said he wanted to show me something. He put a hundred dollars on the desk and then he showed me a picture of what had to be the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. Now, I have to admit, I do not think human babies are cute. I think they are down right ugly little red faced prunes that should have bags over their heads, but that's just me. This kid was gorgeous. She had curly blond hair, huge blue eyes and a toothless smile that lit up the whole photograph. He said, "This is my daughter." The next picture she as about 6 years old, dressed up like a little nurse (her mother was a nurse) and all smiles, ready to tackle the world. The next picture she was graduating from elementary school and once again, all smiles and eager to explore the new world. The next picture she was getting an award from future scientists in her best dress, all smiles but now tinged with a touch of ambition. Then there was a picture of her in her cheer leading uniform. The next picture, she was in cap and gown graduating from high school with honors. She had a full scholarship to an ivy league university I won't name as I am sure they would sue me but let's just say, you don't get in there without a 4.0 average, great clubs and community service.
The final picture he flipped to was a filthy under wieght woman with an obvious heroine junkie hanging on her like he owned her. "Who is that?" I asked
He looked sadly at me. "My daughter. She sleeps on the floor of a filthy efficiency apartment she shares with 3 men. I am going to take that $100.00 and buy her another microwave because someone stole hers. I know she will just sell it and buy drugs."
"Then why buy her one?" I knew he made less money in a month than I made in a week and half.
"Because I keep hoping one day I will see the girl in all those other pictures," he sadly answered. "I don't know where or if we went wrong. We followed all the best advice in raising our kids. They got out of high school with brilliant futures in front of them. She is an addict and my son has been going to college for 10 years and doesn't even have a BA."
I had known this man's parents. I knew him for going on 25 years. He had treated a list of people that read like the who's who of literature, politics, psychiatry and religion. I would sit for hours just listening to the stories. He was not a bad person and nor was his wife.
Then he looked at me and said, "No child writes down under what they want to grow up to be: drug addict. No one wakes up one morning and says - I think I'll get addicted to drugs today. You and I do this for all the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends, who like me, want to see that brilliant, smiling child they raised instead of the addict that now inhabits their body. We know that as long as there is life, the drug has not won. We are the only thing they can barely trust. We don't know what went wrong, but we are learning the skills to fix the problem. That's why we do it and that's why you are getting up and going to work. You did nothing wrong and any judge that will take the word of an addict as truth in court is an idiot and if you will give me his name, I will call him and tell him that. You are one of the few talented, good ones. You are needed." 
With that I went off to work and my clients raised so much Hell at Workman's Compensation, I was reinstated a few weeks later.
I have never forgotten his words. "No one gets up one morning and decides to be an addict." I saw people addicted to drugs they were given by doctors who really didn't know they were addicting people to drugs. The drug company rep said it was safe. Some doctors did it to keep the patient, and his fat insurance policy, coming back every week.
Some people became addicts because they were in excruciating pain and just wanted to be able to walk to the bathroom by themselves.
Some people tried that drug because they lived in the "projects" and between the wailing babies, fighting couples, gun fire and police force that wouldn't even come into the boundaries of Liberty City, they gave up and drugs were cheaper than alcohol. They just wanted an hour of peace. You have no idea how many times I heard that one sentence.
And some, like his daughter only committed one sin. She fell in love with an addict. Oh, she didn't know he was an addict. She came from a sheltered home where her parents worked to protect her from the world. When he said, "try this. It won't hurt you and you'll feel better." She committed the second sin of trust. An ivy league university is a pressure cooker demanding your attention to classes 24/7. People crack in them because the counseling services are underfunded but the football team is worshiped. She had the gene, the genetic predisposition to addiction. All it took was one dose and she was hooked. I bet the addict was really disappointed when he found out how much a professor makes.
Now, let me destroy one myth for you as the vice squad used to come to me for readings. Addicts are not pushers. Pushers know what their product does and they are not taking it. Addicts are used as mules to carry the drugs to the customer and the money to the pusher. One cop said it was like sweeping a floor. You round up every addict delivering drugs one day and the next day you get to sweep a new batch up because the pusher has an unlimited supply of mules. Once the police department could confiscate the property the drugs were found on whether the owners of the property had anything to do with the actual crime, it became a very profitable floor sweeping with all sorts of nifty toys for management to play with and sell to their friends at auction. That was the day, they lost all interest in ever arresting the real pushers and stopping the drug trade. It was just a profitable an enterprise on both ends. Unfortunately the toll on the innocent in middle was astronomical but hey, you should be familiar with that.
You get drug tested for minimum wage at a crappy job and the CEO making the 2 million dollar bonuses at the top never gets drug tested and take it from someone who has worked in the penthouse office, is snorting a line on his thousand dollar desk pad several times a day. He even has a private bar in the office stocked with more net worth booze than you make in a year. One of those crystal glasses is your weekly salary. But you are peeing in a cup with someone watching....Yup, you are real bright.
Pass some more laws to get the poor people drug tested and make them pay for it. Some day, you will be the poor person without a job and I bet you aren't going to find it very funny or fair.

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