August 31, 2009
It can happen so fast. You can wake up feeling amazing, confident in your day, grateful for your many, many blessings, ready to take the world head on. A full night’s sleep, a good workout, hearing someone say ‘I love you’ and you are out the door.
And then the world can slap you in the face. My heart is so heavy right now. Talking with a patient, a doctor friend came into the room and asked me to step out. “have you heard about patient x?” (Patient X being someone I’ve blogged about, someone who can simultaneously make me pull my hair out strand by strand and hug her sweet neck, someone who I wanted so, so, so badly to make it in the world.)
Patient X just came into the ICU and died. She is 30 years old. I worked with her family when I was in Athens. With her many, many admissions to the hospital, I have often reflected on how different our lives were. Her mother drank when she was pregnant with her. My mother ate loads of watermelon. Her mother hit. Mine didn’t. Her mother sent her into foster care. My mother sent me to cheerleading camp. Her neighbors pimped her out in elementary school. My neighbor let me help her plant those elephant ear plants. Her high school boyfriend gave her HIV. Mine gave me flowers. Her late twenties have been spent on a dialysis machine while spending the night on the street. Mine have been spent planning a wedding and taking trips with friends.
See, to the outside world, she is a crackhead. She is one of those who “abuse the system.” To me, she is a little girl whose mother I met in a former job and with whom one meeting 5 years ago explained the girl I came to meet at this hospital. To the outside world, she is someone who makes us roll up our windows and lock our doors in downtown Atlanta. To me, she is vulnerable and scared and has been victimized from the minute she could breathe. Everyone has a story. Every "bum," every "welfare case" has a story.
No one gets where they are on their own. I’ll let someone else write a post about personal responsibility. And then my rebuttal will be about how you have to have been taught morals, values and good decision making skills to be ABLE to be responsible. This kid didn’t stand a chance in the world. And my heart breaks today. Because she died alone, with a nice black and blue bruise on her face from the boyfriend I’ve tried for years to get her to leave. Because not a freaking person in her massive family an hour away will even come to get her death certificate. Because instead of being buried with ‘On Eagles’ Wings,’ she gets a county burial. I’ll spare you what a county burial is. Just buy life insurance. Trust me.
I am sad because I tried so so so so so hard to help her. Somedays I got angry with her. One doctor even told me I was getting callous toward her. I told her it was tough love. And it was, truly. "I am NOT trying to have you die on me, T" was a phrase I uttered over and over again. She didn't listen. She couldn't listen. And I am sad. I am sad she died alone. I am sad for what I'm sure transpired before she died. And I'm sad that my big ole social working 'self couldn't fix her. I wanted to really really really really badly. Like stamping my feet, fit pitching badly. It plain and simple sucks that people have to grow up and live like she did. It's not fair that I got ballet classes when she got beatings. And I got family birthday dinners when she got weekly visits from her family in foster care. Good God what I'd give to hug her neck just one more time and beg, albeit futilly, for her to let me help. After my tempter tantrum I plan to sit down and let myself absorb that hopefully she is now in a place where she doesn't need drugs to suppress memories and where she can be the beautiful woman that she is.