This past week, J.D ends up in the hospital for a drug overdose. How can this be? What did you do, J.D..?
My skin is tingling. Burning. Starting to flake. I feel like an Avenger at the end of Infinity War who’s just lost the dice roll – and about to disintegrate into ash. My face is hotter than Mercury; I keep staring at my hands as they bloom scarlet red, swelling intensely.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to die if I don’t move.
Skin crinkling up in dark tinges, I envision it leaving bone underneath steaming. Eyes dried to desert. My cat meows, jumps onto the bed, as I just lay there. I absentmindedly stroke her head as she curls on top of me.
Look down at my hand again. It’s gotten worse. More skin is frayed, peeling away. I don’t have long left.
It’s a cold night to drug overdose.
I’ve managed to leave two full bowls of kitty food, two fresh bowls of water, two trays of clean litter. Before picking up a blanket and stumbling out the door. I walk slowly, in pain, down the stairs outside, skin stretched bare. Like sliced with a paring knife.
It’s really so cold, as I walk a long walk down the townhouse complex. Fire and ice, chills and fever, and all so alone. There are barely any lights on in the silent sentinel houses on either side of me. I walk and walk, foot in front of foot, looking up every so often. It seems so far away. The bottom of the path. Towards the gate.
And yet, every instant, I feel like another layer of skin has come off me. Underneath, burning and churning molten heat – as my body goes mad, as my immune system wages war on my inner core. What a bad night to drug overdose.
By the guard gate, I call an Uber. Wrapped up in my contradictory blanket, cold and hot at the same time, I wait as reality itself shakes from my drug overdose.
Finally get into the cab. “Where we going?”
“Morningside Mediclinic. It should say on the app.”
“Yeah. I’ve got Stevens-Johnson.” Then I laugh hysterically. “I don’t want his johnson. Quick, it’s a medical emergency!”
He drives fast; it’s an empty street anyway. Hardly anyone around at this time in the morning.
He drops me by Morningside Mediclinic Casualty. I walk in. My hands are smouldering volcanic core now. I shake, and say, basically, I’ve had a drug overdose. And I’m going to possibly die.
Too many pricks in hospitals.
I’ve now had my third one. This time, in the gluteus maximus. The bum. That one really hurt. Go back onto the bed, with drip dripping into me, and steroids being pumped in with it. I lie there and contemplate how it came to this.
No, I didn’t relapse. I guess that’s a fair assumption. It would be incorrect, though.
It wasn’t a drug overdose anyone in their right or wrong mind would ever do.
It was Lamictin. It’s not exactly a party drug. Mainly prescribed for prevention of seizures and as a mood stabiliser, it has a particularly nasty reputation. You can get a rash from it, a bad, allergic reaction.
A lot of doctors recommend you stop at that point.
My doctor was super cautious when introducing the drug to me. We took it very slow. She told me exactly what could happen if I had a bad rash. Every time we increased it to get it to the therapeutic dose, there was the danger of it.
Eventually, we got it up to 100mg. It worked perfectly for me. It made a massive difference in my life. How it works exactly, I am not sure, but I understand that it slows down nerve impulses in the brain. It’s calming without being tranquilising. It’s non-addictive.
No, that’s not exactly true. It’s very addictive. Just not very psychologically addictive: there’s no desire to pop pills like smarties. You don’t want to pop out a pipe and put a pill in.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone going into rehab for a Lamictin problem. But it is dependent-making. There’s physical withdraw. You’re supposed to be weaned carefully off it.
Oops, I did it again… I had a drug overdose.
Just because there’s no desire to drug overdose on Lamictin doesn’t mean it can’t happen. For instance, if you’re a philosophical type who lives with two cats, works in an intense environment, writes until late every night, and can’t stop thinking about the nature of life and the universe and everything… well… there’s a chance you might take your evening med… and have no memory of it.
I’m like the guy from Memento sometimes. I need a system to remember stuff. Somehow over three years, I haven’t made one mistake with the Lamictin, but there’s always a first time.
I double dosed 100mgs. 200. My goodness gracious me.
The first clear memory that I had , in fact, actually taken the first dose hit me at the same time as the intense flu-like symptoms did, 14 hours later. The warning symptoms of Stevens-Johnsons.
Where were you last night, when I needed you? I lamented to my traitorous memory banks. They shrugged, I think. As if to say, Maybe survival of fittest includes getting better at memory games.
But I didn’t need this right now. I was about to sign a contract as a permanent at work. I wasn’t going to rush out to Casualty and ruin everything. Who knew how long I’d have to stay in a hospital bed? I had soooo much work to do, so many deadlines, that I risked mine. And left it.
I didn’t want to go cold-turkey off the Lamictin either. Physical withdrawal is so intense it floors you. So I judged an ‘appropriate’ amount of time had passed, prayed for the best, and took the next day’s dose.
Red rashes flared up with alarming regularity.
I was dancing with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a catastrophic skin allergic reaction that leads to massive tissue damage and death in more than 10% of its suffers. It’s like dancing with a fiery red-haired with balestones for eyes and molten skin, and then the damn slow dancing music comes on.
Drug overdose: don’t do it.
I got romantic about it. I’m doing this for my job, I said. I’m balancing the scale between extreme withdrawal and extreme human-combustion… so I don’t disappoint anyone ever again. So I keep my job! I’ll risk it, because I listen to epic orchestral music whenever I start getting freaked out, and it gives me suicidal, heroic last-stand inspiration!
It’s pretty specific in the contract. If I am off sick for a long enough time, the contract is null and void. I panicked. What if I go through either one?
Once my doctor tried to wean me off Lamictin. Wean. Stopping a fraction of the amount that I was supposed to stop now (which was all of it). Could not work for a week. I nearly last my job then.
So this was scary. I was in a very scared place. This past week has been hell. Normally, you take a drug continuously because you want to get high. Here, I just wanted to not go into severe physical withdrawal. Normally, you take a drug continuously and if you don’t exceed it, you won’t die. Here, just remaining on it was inciting an allergic fire under my skin, flushes, chills of the bone, weakness, fear. I was sitting in a singles bar, and Death was the only other patron… and I was sending him free drinks.
I was self-medicating. It’s the worst thing an addict with good intentions can do. But not self-medicating for an effect, to get high. Self-medicating in sheer terror of what could happen one way or the other.
Does that mean I’ve used? I don’t think so. It comes down to intentions. My intentions were trying to wean myself off a seizure-inducing medication that can kill if you go off suddenly. Was that wrong? Yes. My job wasn’t worth my life.
What I should have done was do as my doctor long ago told me to do. Stop completely, go into hospital. Be admitted. Let whatever happens happen.
Even if it meant losing my job.
Not exactly Mr Brains.
I didn’t go about it the right way. But my doctor was away and not giving great advice, except, stop taking it.
I decided to risk it all and I nearly went up in a fireball of flecks of skin. Stupid.
It’s what happens when I’ve been out of work for so long, that when I finally have the opportunity, I go rabidly mad to do everything I can – including working close to burn-out – to keep it.
When I came out of Casualty, the sun had been up for awhile. I awkwardly limped, since it felt like there was a needle sized hole straight through my glutes, to the front of the hospital to hail an Uber.
Looking up at the sky, I thought, I really miss my cats.
Nothing, not even trying to prove a point about how far I’ll go for work, to holding on to a job, is worth losing them.
If it means I can’t work for a month, or have to be admitted, so be it. Just a stupid reason to lose a job. Of all my drug misadventures to make my life difficult, this time it had to be an unintentional one. Like, getting everything right in recovery, and then my stupid absent-minded professor personality comes along and kills me. Well, that and desperate pride.
I opened up my phone, and pressed the wi-fi camera app. It opened on the study, with the daylight giving cool cast to the room. They were huddled in their little kitty bed, together, paws wrapped around each other.
Time to go home.
[Did J.D “use”and drug overdose by self-medicating? Do you feel he’s no longer ‘clean’? Give us your thoughts. If there’s consensus, we’ll remove J.D’s column from the Houghton page. But just spare a thought: every addict has to undergo life-on-life circumstances, and they don’t necessarily make the right decision. So the question is, was J.D’s actions the actions of an addict “using” or a desperate person trying to get off a dangerous medication while ignoring medical advice?]
PHOTO CREDIT: I’m a World on Fire by J.D