I didn’t have much of a childhood, and what I did have was pretty ugly. I left home at the age of 12 and have been on my own ever since. I have no contact with my birth family.
I remember growing up in that world of abuse and fear and I told myself when I left that I was never going to experience that again. I survived with my wit and “wheelin, dealin’ and stealin'” because at 12, my employment options were seriously limited. Regardless, I was breaking the law and two days before my sixteenth birthday I was sent to adult prison! It was the beginning of an unfortunate cycle for me, and I couldn’t see outside the box – society saw me as a criminal and so that’s what I was.
It wasn’t until my young son visited me in jail that I really started to think about what I needed to do to give him a better chance at life than I’d had. I became an active member of a 12- step group and took my first real job working in the recovery industry. I excelled in that job and that led to better and better opportunities. My son moved in with me, and I was able to teach him the value of a hard day’s work. He’s grown up to be an amazing man and I look forward to being part of his life as an adult.
At the recovery house where I held down my first job, there was a computer in the corner, that I started to spend time exploring and I found had a passion for information technology and an aptitude for learning. I took every training course I could fit into my schedule and studied after hours and on my lunch breaks. Eventually I got my MCSE + internet certification and was ultimately offered a job at Trebas Institute teaching hardware, software, networking and TCP/IP.
And then the worst happened. I was riding my bike one night after work when I was struck from behind! I boke both tibia, my pelvis, my hips, my ribs, crushed both hands, ripped my rotator cuff, broke my back in four places, my skull in four places my face, my nose, my teeth with a shearing brain hemorrhage. I was grade 7 on the Glasgow coma scale and I did not awaken for some time. Afterwards I didn’t remember much. This was the beginning of my long painful recovery. My medical records included a notation that I had previously had narcotic issues, and therefore, I was given very little while hospitalized.
Eventually I went out and found a way to self-medicate. Sadly, the hospital gave my bed away and I was left on my own with no medical or community support. My memory had not fully returned, and I was outdoors, alone and afraid.
I found a doctor that I had seen previously who agreed to medicate me for pain, but only if I took a combination of Oxycontin and methadone. It was very challenging trying to accept my new limitations. The bitterness in me grew and I was an angry broken old man just waiting to die! And then my doctor called me in his office and told me he would no longer prescribe oxycontin and methadone and I was cut off cold. This almost killed me, and in order to survive I had no choice but to self-medicate with heroin. I managed to survive for six months, finding a couple of hundred dollars a day using charm and wits.
And then one day a garbage truck in downtown Vancouver intentionally swerved in order to hit me and my cart. I was slammed against the truck and hit the ground. No one stopped to ask if I was ok, and I was left alone to pick myself and my smashed belongings up. I was badly hurt however, and ultimately took myself to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a c2 fracture in my neck!!
And then I met Kurt and he changed my life. He was a researcher and was in charge of bringing people into a study SALOME which studied the effects of prescribing Heroin (diacetylmorphine) for chronic pain as well as addiction versus other treatments, (e.g. Methadone and Hydromorphone). He saved my life by enrolling me in the program, and for the first time in years it seemed I might be able to breathe.
But I was still just existing, literally just waiting to die. But something amazing happened. People had begun to die from this fentanyl thing and I was invited to a meeting at St. Paul’s Hospital with stakeholders from all levels of local society, as well as the media. They were trying to figure out how to sae lives and we were asked to think outside the box. One young lady stood up and suggested that they give opiates at St Paul’s and no one would have to buy fentanyl and die! Everyone clapped like she had said something that was amazing and started clapping.
But I remembered my visits and couldn’t help myself. I stood up and exclaimed, “I don’t know what planet you people are from, but it doesn’t matter what you give away at St. Paul’s! You treat people like me like shit, you rob us on welfare days, you assault us you throw us out in bad weather with improper clothing. I don’t care what you give away here, I’m not coming!”
I sat down, and the room was quiet for some time before too long people began approaching me and thanking me for saying what I said. That afternoon I began writing and in the next 24 hours I wrote a complete business plan for a peer staffed and managed Hydromorphone replacement and safe injection Site. It was good and reminded me that I still had opportunity to impact the world professionally.
I was invited to St. Paul’s to speak with the front-line staff about how to interact with a marginalized society. From there I noticed that there were places in the DTES where I could make a difference. Perhaps I was still alive to speak for those who have difficulty speaking for themselves. That is how I began being a support voice wherever I could. I used the bitterness and anger as a springboard back into life! Something had changed within me and I was no longer waiting to die.
I have a full life ahead and although I can never be the man I once was, that is ok. I am a much different man that still has an awful lot to offer. It is clear to me that what I now present with is not only accepted, it is much needed in some situations.
SALOME gave me the opportunity to take my life back and I have risen to the challenge. I am glad that a new path has opened for me because I not only get an amazing amount of satisfaction from just about everything that I do now. I see a future.
That future includes everyone reading this blog who is willing to accept that healthcare professionals could do a better job of understanding, empathizing and listening to those of us who are poor, broken, abused, isolated or outside of the norms. Together lets talk about the stigma that exists in society and within the medical system.