Recently, I saw a young woman referred to me for an opinion on her hepatitis C infection.
In the latter part of 2013 she made an unwise decision and started using intravenous drugs. She also made a more unwise decision and shared needles. She is fortunate that the only virus she contracted was hepatitis C, now curable. I do not know the details of her life then which led her to lean over the edge of a cliff. It would seem to most spectators that her new lifestyle would portend an inexorable slide into an abyss. Young addicts, for example, often cannot fund their addictions, and resort to criminal activities to generate necessary revenue. Employment status and personal relationships become jeopardized. The tapestry of a person's life can rapidly unravel.
But, none of this happened. About two years after the first shared needle pierced her vein, she quit and she's been clean since. It was nearly a year later that she first saw me in the office accompanied by her young, spirited son. I asked her how she molted and emerged from a grim and dangerous world of self-destruction. “Who helped her?” I inquired. ”No one,” she said. She had thrown the devil off her back herself, and had dispatched him to a place so distant that he would never find her again.
Consider how extraordinary this life-preserving act was. Only someone who has overcome a true addiction can understand the magnitude of this act. That she succeeded alone only magnifies the accomplishment. I admired her grit and devotion, but I couldn't feel it on a visceral level since I have never suffered from an addiction.
She told me that she her two young kids gave her the motivation she needed to put her needles aside. She owes them a great debt. They gave her a gift that she can never repay. But, I have a sense that she will spend the rest of her life giving back to them.
This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.