It’s the words I’ve dreaded right since my career as a drug user started: “permanent brain damage”. It’s always been there, right below the surface. Since the first time I sniffed glue or took a drag from a joint…what is this doing to your brain buddy?Alas, these were exactly the words I was confronted with when I woke up in hospital following a binge of what I thought was pure heroin (but ended up being opiods cut with poisen). After waking up in a rehab/hospital I can’t remember the exact medical terms the psychiatrist used but it boiled down to “you’ve fucked up your brain, especially the part responsible for memory”.
Now lets be clear: I’ve had decades of experience using mind altering substances, but never did I actually consider a scenario wherein I would sustain brain damage from the use of recreational drugs. Today I wish I could go back in time and opt not to buy that bag of “heroin” six months ago. I bought it from a regular drug market not far from my home. A place where you could buy more or less the narcotic you were looking for, without worrying too much about being poisoned. Until that day. That day it knocked me out, more than ordinary heroin would do. I count myself lucky that I was able to drive back to my house and get into bed before passing out. That’s how hard the stuff hit me. My wife and kids were away in Cape Town. It was supposed to be a perfect opportunity to use – nobody around except me.
When my father jerked me bodily from my bed and chucked me into the cold swimming pool I had to wake up from the comatose state I was in. But only barely. He probably saved my life by throwing me into the chilly water. I woke as though a bolt of thunder went through me and I found myself standing erect by the side of the pool seconds later…gasping for breath. My head was thick and bleary but my body was stiff and twitchy. I anticipated the cobwebs clearing up but it never quite did.
I don’t remember anything from being driven in my dad’s car to the clinic, but I do remember waking up there and finding myself outside bumming a smoke from one of the other patients. Shortly thereafter I was shepherded back to my bed. When I woke again I was inside an ambulance. A nurse jammed a syringe into my arm and I felt an intense burning sensation going up my veign and into my upper body. It actually scorched its way through my lower arm, into my upper arm, then through my chest like burning silver tracing its way through my veins – all the way up into my neck. I tried to scream but only managed a subdueded whimper. At this point I was convinced that the paramedic had injected me with a saline solution that was igniting my veins with liquid fire. My cries of pain were too weak to be more than a barely audible moan. The nurse didn’t even acknowledge it. In desperation I begged for morphine…but my plea fell on deaf ears. After what felt like an eternity the ambulance came to a standstill and I was wheeled out into hospital corridors. I was vaguely aware that I had woken up that morning in a rehab I knew, but I had no other memories to moore myself to: just empty space. And I floated through that empty, thoughtless space. The desolate landscape of a numb mind. The burning sensation in my veins thankfully faded after some time. But my mind never cleared up, my thoughts were like thick wool blankets wrapped around my mind. When I was disembarked from the ambulance I was on a stretcher trolley and was wheeled through the new hospital corridors and almost strait into theatre. I’d been stripped of everything: my clothes and my jewellery, so now all I was wearing was the green open backside operating gown. But I felt safe again now that the excruciating pain from whatever was in my drip was thankfully over. I lay in satisfied anticipation of the anesthetist’s warm needle in my arm and as the blessed shot came I smiled and closed my eyes: I was going under my narcotic safety blanket again.