For the second time in my life, I found someone overdosing while I was working. Tonight it was at Barnes & Noble. We had just closed for the evening. It was about five minutes after nine when I began to do my end-of-day tasks, which consisted of making sure there were no customers left in the store. I strolled over to the bathrooms to see if they were clear.
I squatted down to check under the stalls and saw a man about the same age as myself lying on his side on the filthy tile floor, a small pool of urine at the base of the toilet near his sneakers. His face was a pale blue and his eyes had rolled back into their sockets. After pausing for a moment to see if he was breathing I ran over to my coworker while calling 911. I told the operator what had happened and paged for my manager over the headset slouching off of my right ear.
I returned to the bathroom where the man was making ferocious grunting and snoring sounds. They were the same sounds I heard emanating from the last person I had discovered having a drug overdose. It was the unmistakable howl of his body gasping for air as the drugs stifled his nervous system and lungs.
My manager and I got the bathroom stall door open and stepped inside. The man at my feet was still heaving and choking. His pants had fallen down to the bottom of his rear and his sweater was wet. I told my manager to go wait for the cops and fire department to come while I waited to make sure he didn’t stop breathing.
Just a moment after he left, the room mall security arrived. It was the same two gentlemen that had always worked mall security. A hispanic man in his early 30s and a stout, average looking white man several years younger. As they walked into the stout one said, “Shit. It’s this guy again.”
“I’m guessing you two know each other?” I asked him.
“Yea he O.D’d in the mall bathroom last week.”
“Fuck,” I sighed.
They walked past me and began to roll the man onto his back. The hispanic security guard patted his chest a few times and called to him “You alright man?” He started to open his eyes, but only slightly. In the process of rolling him over they revealed two syringes under him. This made three, including the one that fell into the toilet.
The scene was uncannily similar to the first man I had found overdosing. He had been in a Walgreens bathroom, also heaving near the toilet, with a syringe floating in the water. An oxycontin bottle sat on the tank of the toilet bowl. That gentleman didn’t make it.
I stood and watched in pitying silence as they began to pull the man up to a sitting position, leaning him against the faded yellow and green striped wallpaper. It was around then that the police and paramedics entered the room. The color had started to slowly return to the man’s face, and his eyes opened progressively wider, yet he could muster no words, only garbled groans and mumbles.
The paramedics, police and mall security joked and caught up with one another while they tended to the man. The paramedic sat him up against a wall and began to administer Narcan, the medication used for reversing a drug overdose. They began to ask him the basic cognition test questions. What is your date of birth? What is your full name?
While the paramedics saw to him and checked his vitals, the mall security and police filled me in on their history with the man. They told me he had either been caught using or overdosed several times in the mall before. He was homeless. He had been banned not only from the mall, but also from Barnes & Noble. He had OD’d once before at the store, before I had begun working there.
My attention shifted back over to the man as he began to recover. The paramedic asked him to remove his soaking sweater so he could check his blood pressure. As he slowly pulled the sweater over his head it took his dirty white t-shirt with it, exposing his chest and arms. There were track marks all along both of his arms, as well as several on his hip and upper thigh. His hands were inflamed from numerous failed at attempts at injections and were stained with dried blood. Likely an infection. Likely one he’d had for a while.
The crew of paramedics had gotten him to his feet and began slowly walking him to the ambulance waiting outside. The police spoke to him with malice and disgust. Their tone wasn’t totally unwarranted for there is something selfish that can be seen about drug use, but for some reason unbeknownst to myself I felt a strong pity for him. He couldn’t have been much older than me. He was someone’s son. He was probably someone’s best friend at some point. Someone probably loved him in the past. Perhaps someone was wondering where he was at that very moment.
After the ambulance had left I went back to my work as if nothing had happened. As if I hadn’t just found a man on the brink of death. As if I hadn’t just watched a man nearly kill himself for what may have been his dozenth time. My coworkers expressed their frustrations at having to stay later to accommodate him. I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t think about the selfishness of his actions or the inconvenience it placed on everyone in that room that night. I could only think of what could have been for this man, and what a crying shame it was that his life had ended up like this.
I thought only of my friends and former classmates whose wakes I had gone to. I thought of my best friend crying to me as her sister had stolen $7,000 from her parents to pay for heroin. I thought of the news segments showing the facebook pictures of kids I knew of high school that wouldn’t make it to college. I thought about his family. I wondered if anyone would pick him up from the hospital. I hoped that someone would be there for him. I hoped he would be alive this time tomorrow.