I pray the following, often: May every mother’s child come home safe tonight.
Yesterday, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572,000,000 for contributing to the state’s opioid-addiction crisis.
To have a story we need people in a place with a problem with some change aka progress.
This decision is definitely a change.
The story I’m sharing today details a little of my experience with this crisis.
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When I was 10 years old my dentist told my parents, I needed braces to straighten my teeth. Apparently, I had more teeth than I had space in my mouth and the orthodontist chose an exotic solution. Instead of pulling teeth, he put the braces on the inside attempting to my mouth larger.
Ten years later, the problem had not been solved and the orthodontist’s patience was at an end. I say his patience, because having braces on my teeth had led to a 4F designation with the draft board. To make this as clear as possible, this meant I was not drafted during The Vietnam War. So, as I say, I was quite content for the Orthodontist to take as long as he needed.
I later learned my parents had paid a flat fee for the procedure and a two-year procedure having ragged on for 10 years had obviously become a bad business deal for the orthodontist. So, his patience was at an end. It was at this point that he gave up, pulled four of my teeth, put the braces on the outside and began a rigorous campaign to straighten my teeth by contracting them into the space available. Once a week I would visit his office and he would tighten the braces.
As you may imagine, this was painful. The answer was to give me a prescription for Demerol. Demerol for the uninitiated is synthetic morphine. My allotment was 4 a day. I adhered to my routine, visit the orthodontist, take my meds and right when my teeth had reached their new normal; crank the braces again and repeat the process.
Over the years, friends have asked how I bore the pain, and I remind them, it seemed like a small price to pay NOT to be in Vietnam. Let’s keep things in perspective here people.
All good things come to an end, and eventually the braces were removed at which time it was discovered five cavities had developed under the metal bands that constituted my braces. I was indignant. Prior to this I had never had a cavity. And to add insult to injury, my wisdom teeth had begun to come in sideways and so I was sent to an oral surgeon for the immediate removal of those bad boys.
This story gets worse, I developed a dry socket and for the next week, I visited the surgeon’s office in the morning to have the socket packed with gauze saturated with clove oil. Then at the end of the day I would return to repeat the process. Meanwhile, every time my heart beat; the nerves ached.
While all this had been going on, the story I’d been telling myself was, ‘I’m a stoic. I can handle this.’ By now, I was 20. The draft has ended. I am no longer at risk of being killed in Vietnam. And my teeth were straight, a significant benefit for an actor. You would think I would be happy.
However, during this time my girl friend and I had broken up. I started dating another girl, but she wasn’t the girl and so I had sabotaged that relationship. All of this led to my brilliant strategy of self-medication.
I had reached the point where I would horde my meds during the day and take them all at the same time in the evening. Essentially, I’d become inured to my physical pain, but when Demerol alone wasn’t sufficiently numbing my emotional pain, I upped the ante supplementing the meds with Drambuie.
It was summer and I was working construction for my dad. I had taken my last pill the night before and had refills remaining on my prescription. I asked my dad to drop me off at the drug store, while he ran an errand. I refilled my prescription and decided I’d just pop one.
When my dad came back to get me, he found me “asleep” sitting on a bench by the door. When he was finally able to rouse me I told him I wasn’t feeling well. I asked him to drop me off at my apartment.
My landlady at the time had been a nurse during World War I. I knocked on her door.
I said, “I think I’ve done something stupid.”
I explained the situation and for the next 36 hours, this sweet little lady sat up with me. She wrapped me in blankets, kept me hydrated and kept me from going to sleep. My body cramped and sweated and expressed its displeasure at my denying it the poison I’d been feeding it for months.
Had anyone questioned me during this period of lunacy, I would have told them I knew what I was doing. I had it under control. I got this.
But no one did. I disguised my misbehavior so well, I appeared to have things under control.
It’s been 46 years since that summer. I am thrilled to still be here.
The court’s decision to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for the opioid epidemic shines light on the way our health system prescribes. This story is not over, but it’s progress. And that’s what we need for a story – people in a place with a problem and there’s progress.
My story’s not over yet, either. I interpret my survival as Grace. I remember my little landlady as an angel and I’m grateful to still be here.
Again, may every mother’s child come home safe tonight.
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Til next time,