different sins

one day, a colleague found herself struggling to insert a cannula for a relatively young man who was an intravenous drug user, his veins hardened by strange needles and opiates. she was on her third try, when the man’s mother said, “i want you to stop. look at how much pain you’re putting my son through!”

it was late afternoon, towards the end of my friend’s 36-hour call. she was tired and hungry, having skipped lunch because the admissions kept coming in. she looked angrily at the woman and failed to mask her impatience. “well you were obviously not this concerned when he was shooting himself up and ruining all his veins!” she snapped.

it shut the lady up and my friend successfully obtained intravenous access on her 5th attempt. she then related the story to us over a couple of drinks later that week and we all had a good laugh.

serves the man right. for all the pain he’s put himself through, he deserves the diseases that come with shared needles, the redundant blood vessels, the life (lives) he’s destroyed.

yet now i regret not making the most of my time as a medical student to talk to these active or recovering junkies. i never asked them how their habit has affected them as a person, a person who was once a child and was at certain parts of their lives known as something other than an addict. i never asked what their relationships were like, if their parents kept in touch, if they had any children. how they got themselves hooked. how many times they’ve tried quitting.

i finally watched “trainspotting” today. there was a scene when the protagonist’s father carried him into his childhood bedroom and removed his shoes while his mother undressed him and tucked him into bed. they locked the door as they left the room and witnessed his painful withdrawal. then they washed him up, made him take an infective screen and rode out the rest of his recovery with him.

i remembered what i told myself to recall whenever i am tempted to judge someone based on the little i know – everyone is/was loved by someone. it’s a mantra developed to deal with the resentment i have towards some people at work but it’s not limited to my colleagues and superiors. at the risk of sounding preachy, at the very “least”, everyone is loved by God.

when i think about my friend’s story now, i feel a little more sympathy towards the woman protecting the son who’s probably broken her heart many times. she once held him in her arms as a baby, she once packed his lunch for school. who knows how many times he’s tried methadone replacement, only to succumb to his flesh once more?

her words feel less justified than i used to think they were. they seem almost cruel, even. i dunno.

it’s hard to stay compassionate and empathetic towards the people i am trying to help, especially if they appear to have no desire to help themselves. it’s easier to say “you had it coming” than be a bigger person and humble myself. but just because we sin differently doesn’t mean i can say my sin is not as bad as yours.

it’s just another addition to the list of things i have to remember while serving in my current capacity.


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