Back in the ‘70’s the TV show M*A*S*H was hugely popular. Who could resist the mad capped adventures of a group of American Army surgeons fighting death, deprivation, depravity, and alcoholism in the frozen depths of the Korean War? The theme song for the show was Johnny Mandel’s “Suicide is Painless.” While life is a losing game (no one gets out alive) it is the only game that we have, and we need to play the cards we are dealt as best we can. No matter how stacked against us the deck might seem.
Last week a close and loved friend of mine, I’ll call her “Red,” was having one of the most difficult of times. It seems that she had gotten into a huge fight with her father over the course that Red’s life had taken, and he told her in the middle of a Steak and Shake parking lot that she was a failure, and disappointment to him. He also had told her several weeks earlier that if she did not have a job within two weeks that the $250 he had given her as a college graduation present needed returned.
Red had gone back to school at the age of 38 or 39 to get her Associate’s Degree, and graduated Cum Laude from her school this past December. While attending college full time, she also under took the task of taking care of a dear and close friend of both of ours who is in end stage renal failure. She attended to his daily needs of housekeeping, laundry, and cooking, and also saw that he went to his doctor’s appointments, did his dialysis, and whatever other thing that was needed to maintain, and keep some quality of life.
All during her schooling her parents constantly berated her for not having a full time job. Granted she was only taking 18 hours in college, and taking care of a dying friend, but to her parents that didn’t matter. She wasn’t “working.”
So at the beginning of this month she went on a tear, and spent several hundred dollars on crack, getting high every day, all day, for five days. Red had had a bad addiction to crack, like there is a good one, but had been clean for a number of years. I was one of the people she counted on to hold her accountable, and when she fell off the radar for several days I started calling her, texting her, and finally had her phone pinged to see where she was. The answer was not what I had wanted to hear. She had been frequenting an area known for drug dealing, and was going there several times a day.
On Monday, May 4th, I was to meet her and she was going to help me with some work around my house. Having neurological problems like I do, it is hard sometimes to take care of things around the house. When I arrived at her place she wasn’t there, and I suspected that she was on crack row. I had her phone checked to see where she was, and she was where she shouldn’t have been. I called her, and could tell I had woken her up. When I asked where she was she at least was honest with me, and told me. A part of me knew, and I had my fill of the lies she had been telling, and I unloaded on her about her problem. I told her not to call or contact me until she could get her “shit” together and hung up.
Monday went by, and Tuesday was like any other day, other than I was in day two of quitting smoking, and a total ass (more so than normal) to anyone that came near me. Tuesday afternoon I got a call from “Freddie” (the friend she takes care of). He has been in a rehab center for the past couple of months, working on getting his legs stronger, and getting better balance. He asked if I had heard or seen Red, she was not answering his calls or texts since Monday, and he was concerned.
I went down to the apartment they shared, she was there, but when I knocked there was no answer. I got into the apartment, and the first thing I saw were her legs sticking out of the hallway.
It is strange how years of training will kick in when you least expect them. Rather than being freaked out, and hysterical I went emotionally flat. I checked her for vitals, she was breathing, and had a pulse. I made sure her airway was clear, and called 911. After an initial fight with the medics, she was trundled off to an ambulance, and landed in the ER of a local hospital.
It seems that she took all her anti-anxiety medication, along with some of Freddie’s meds, and washed it all down with a half bottle of really cheap vodka. Add to the mix all of crack she had smoked the previous day(s), and you have the perfect cocktail for disaster.
After a couple of days on a vent, she was finally breathing on her own. Sedated, with tubes coming and going everywhere she lays in an ICU ward in serious condition, an improvement from the first few days of being critical. I went to visit her yesterday and was on the receiving end of a delusional state, with some violent tendencies. Thankfully the hospital had her on four-way restraints, otherwise I think she would have kicked my ass. Her prognosis looks favorable, but who knows.
Back to the M*A*S*H theme song. For those that choose to take the short cut to ending the game of life, it may in fact be painless. Pills, exsanguination, hanging, even a firearm will only hurt for a moment, and then the deed is done. The pain of life is over. No more stresses. No more disappointing people. No more being disappointed. The problem is that for the survivors, the family, friends, loved ones, the pain just begins. I was able to keep the façade of being cool, even cold, to all that was going on. Hell, I have seen more than enough dead bodies, suicides or otherwise over the years. Everything from 90 year great-grandmas who died in their sleep clutching the blankets, to six month old babies beaten to death by mom’s latest live-in. So for the first few days after Red’s failed attempt to shuffle off this mortal coil, I was cold. So cold that her biological mother, Red was given up for adoption to her dad’s new wife when she was 5 or 6, thought I was some kind of monster. She was so upset with me for my coldness and other issues that I had been barred from seeing Red. It was only after the intervention of the social worker that I was finally allowed to visit, and only if the mother was not there. But I digress. On the third or fourth day after finding Red I finally broke down. Unfortunately it was in the finance office of the hospital. Since I was the only one who had access to the apartment, I was tasked with finding all of Red’s papers for the hospital. The staff was wonderful, and allowed me to lose it for at least 20 minutes. I think I went through half a box of tissues.
I have sat and seconded guessed myself since last Tuesday. The “What ifs” have kicked in hard. What if I had stopped by earlier? What if I had kept better track of what was going on, maybe I could have prevented this. What if? What if? What if? Then there is the hurt of having to tell her family, and them blaming me, or Freddie for what Red did.
I visited with Freddie on Mother’s Day. He’s like me, his mom died years ago, so this day is in its own way difficult. As we sat, talked, and smoked (oh yeah, the quitting will have to be restarted) he was nearly in tears. Guilt. Depression. Anger. Pain. All the feeling rushing in to fill up all the little place in his mind, places that make him feel responsible. And then the “What ifs” start for Freddie. What if he had been more aware? What if he hadn’t been so demanding? And on and on.
I don’t know how Red’s family feels, other than some abiding hatred for me. I guess this is a case of wanting to kill the messenger. I don’t think her “real” parents, the biological father, and adoptive mother, have even bothered to come up from Florida yet. Perhaps the pain is too great for them. Or perhaps it is what was written in Red’s note, “My father Hates me!” and “All I have ever wanted was for my Father to hug me and say its (sic) going to be alright.” The family can blame me, they can blame Freddie, but the truth was contained in those two lines. Red is a woman just looking for her father’s approval. Her father’s love. Even after her desperate cry for help, I doubt that she will get either. And I am forever stuck with the image of a dear friend lying half dead on the floor of a cold apartment.
Mandel maybe right when he wrote that suicide is painless. But not for those you leave behind. If you are suffering from depression, or know someone that is, don’t ignore the signs. Get help, get them help. There is nothing in this world worth killing yourself over. Pain passes. Heartache ceases. Betrayal fades with time. But death is permanent, and those you leave, guilty and innocent, will suffer through for years. And if by some horrid chance you are one that was left behind by a love one that took their own life, get help for yourself. You don’t have to deal with the guilt, pain, and loss alone.