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Not Prepared For Son’s Life After Overdose –

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Not Prepared For Son’s Life After Overdose –

Not Prepared For Son’s Life After Overdose –

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Above is a photo of my son in a coma. Josh lay there in the trauma room comatose and hooked up to a ventilator and everything else that could be. As a physician, I was used to taking care of others in that situation; now the shoe was on the other foot. Straddling being a mother and a physician was difficult at best. At worst I was annoying to the staff as my mother brain and doctor brain dealt with the situation.

He'd Been Using Since He Was 12

The call I knew would come someday didn’t come through Josh’s teens or twenties, though he had been using since the age of 12. The call came when he was 32.  No mother is ever ready for a child to die. But all of us who live with children abusing substances are in some way prepared for that possibility.

He Just Couldn't Stop

Josh was a chef who just couldn’t stop using even though it cost him his wife and two young children, and me my grandchildren. On the Friday night of his overdose he and his new roommate took a “bunch of roxicets” and drank “a lot of beer.” Then Josh went off to his room and shot up a Xanax. He either passed out and hit his head, or hit his head and passed out. In any case, he was unconscious. His roommate let him lay there until Monday evening around 6 PM when he heard Josh “gurgling” and called 911. The roommate later told me he thought Josh was “sleeping it off.” Really?! For three days?!

The Damage Was Major

Josh had stroked out his entire brain except the brainstem. He had a heart attack, was in kidney failure, and his enzymes that should have been single digit were nearly 60,000. He was in Rhabdomyolysis. He had a huge open wound on the back of his scalp approximately 8 inches in diameter.

My Death Vigil For Him Began

The vigil I had been dreading for nearly 20 years began. The doctors told me he would die. The neurologist told me that the addiction area of his brain had been affected by the stroke.  I remember thinking “Great. If he doesn’t die he’ll be in a PVS (persistent vegetative state) without addiction problems.” After seven days I was able to help the hospital understand that even though Josh was young, he would not want to live in a coma. We decided to take the ventilator out. The neurologist and I were standing on opposite sides of Josh’s bed talking about the fact that he would not live through this. I looked over at Josh and his lower lip was quivering (around the ventilator tubing) the way it had when he was young and in trouble. I wondered if he could hear us.

Josh Started Breathing On His Own

Three days after we took the ventilator out, Josh had not died. He opened his eyes on day 10 after being admitted. I could tell he knew who I was. I told him then, “You flunked dying and now you must learn why God has kept you alive.” He smiled.

He Would Go To A Nursing Home To Die

Josh had been in ICU for a month when I was told it was time to send him to a nursing home to die. I decided to bring him to the nursing home where I was on staff. He was brought in on a stretcher. He could say a few words and move a few fingers of his left hand. But he did not die then, either. The nursing home staff saved my son. They didn't give up on him. Josh walked out of the nursing home four months later on a cane. He had a traumatic brain injury that would develop early onset dementia. He had lost his hearing (eventually he obtained hearing aids) and could no longer work as a chef, but he was alive. Was that a good thing?

I Was Not Prepared For Life After Overdose

So many parents are losing their children this way. Let me say that the aftermath has not been easy for me. While I am happy that my son is alive, I couldn't help being angry with him most of the time, and I couldn’t seem to get over it. Josh still has addiction problems, and now problems with mood swings due to the brain injury. I felt I should have been able to deal with these issues, especially when he pushed my buttons. Surprisingly, he remembered where they were! I now felt I couldn’t deal with the smallest of issues with him. It was as if I was completely out of fuel. I had no reserve left.

I Had An Epiphany

Finally, one day while meditating, the answer came to me. I had been prepared to lose my son, but I didn't. I wasn't prepared for life like this. I had no emotional tools to cope with his life after a catastrophic overdose. It sounds strange but it was indeed an epiphany. At least now I knew why I was angry all the time. Angry at him and also at myself.

A Counselor Helped Me Understand

I am constantly working on my feelings about Josh’s living when he was supposed to die. And the fact that he still has problems with addiction. These don't have to be my issues. They are his. I can't make him well again.

My Secret Feeling Revealed

It’s wonderful that my son is still on this side of the curtain, and I love him more than life. I understand this. I also understand what a good friend told me: “You’re still watching him die every day. At least my son went in one day.” While that is all  true, in my Mother's heart there always resides a spark of hope.

Watching loved ones suffer is one of the most cruel aspects of addiction. Recovery is also available for the families of. Find family support groups and therapists near you at Recovery Guidance.


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For more than twenty years Gail Dudley had a busy family practice with a hospital and nursing home component. Gail also obtained a MHA (Masters of Healthcare Administration) and completed a one-year health policy fellowship. Dr. Gail has worked in quality assurance and utilization review, hospice practice, and now works full time for a company that has contracts with Medicare and Medicaid to evaluate fraud, waste and abuse in the medical world. Gail describes herself as “a child from an abused childhood who ultimately decided to get ahead in life rather than remain a victim.” She became “a classic over achiever to make up for the losses and pain that accompany an abusive childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic.” The ex wife of an alcoholic and the mother of a son who has been struggling substance use since the age of 12, Gail is deeply familiar with the family disease of addiction. She is also the mother of a high achieving daughter. Gail is delighted to add her voice to Reach Out Recovery both as a medical professional and a mother who has experienced addiction from every aspect. "As someone surrounded on all sides (personal and professional) by addiction issues, I always try to help whenever and wherever I can."

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