I’ve always said I wanted to die while working on a body.
Ideally, it would be after I had celebrated my 80-something birthday with my friends, if I make any by then, eating nachos and laughing. Then the next day, while at work in some depressing, poorly ventilated garage, perhaps after having prepared a very difficult case, I’ll remember something funny from the night before and laugh so hard that a blood vessel will burst in my brain and I’ll fall over and die. I’ll be found soon, and comments will be made about how efficient the whole thing really was.
I will also have been quite full from the aforementioned nachos.
I will be displayed in an unfinished wood casket that I’ve kept in the house for decades and covered with random doodles, carvings and stickers. (Alternatively, I would like it if my father built me one.) I’ll be embalmed with straight Introfiant, but only through the right carotid, if not at work then at the mortuary college. They will incise the areas of the left carotid, right and left axillaries, right and left radials, and right and left femorals; isolate, tie off and snip the arteries; and leave me in the casket like that, dressed in personal protective equipment.
During the service, an embalming machine can be set up by the casket and all the little tube thingies ready to insert. Guests can come up and have a go at embalming, rather than sharing a stupid memory that probably never happened, like “She encouraged me to follow my dreams,” when in reality I said they were a terrible idea.
Of course, a licensed embalmer will be on standby to actually insert the thinige, clamp it, monitor the flow of the fluid and all the other mortician stuff. The guests will just pour a little more Introfiant in the tank, and can massage the fluid into the limbs, if they wish.
Strobe lights will come on; the officiant will read a lengthy document consisting of the names of various people who annoyed me and how; and then a chicken release inside the funeral home.
I literally almost died last week.
I recently went to jail for 24 hours for cow tipping, and while there, I watched my cellmate shoot heroin. She offered me some, then just asked me not to tell anyone she was using, and then she nodded off. She was unconscious in a cell with another former user, and I saw she had some of the drug left. I had always thought you were not allowed to have drugs in jail, but evidently quite a few people brought them in anyway. I didn’t encounter very many inmates who were not high.
Since getting clean at age 19, I have seen heroin a few times. I have been left alone with it. I have been offered some. But I just got away, left the situation, called an adult; all the things you’re supposed to do. However, before being dragged away from Farmer John’s cow pasture in cuffs, I had never actually watched anyone in person prepare and inject it.
She complained that it burned. Never burned when I did it.
Needless to say, this left me feeling what addicts call “triggered.” I’m not saying this girl, or the jail, or the drug made me use. I’m saying after seeing that, I swiped an anesthetic that I assumed would offer a similar experience. I didn’t want to go back to street drugs; I just wanted…to see what it was like. She offered, I said no, and later I chose to say yes, to another drug that I could take by mouth. I don’t know what I was thinking – as we all say – but I vaguely remember having plans to watch funny TV that evening and I may have thought this would make it extra funny.
It was not a similar experience. Once the confusion and stumbling set in, it turned into instant and concurrent intoxication, overdose and withdrawal. Heroin can best be described to a non-user as a warm hug; a toes-up wash of love that flows through you and makes you forget things. What I took was more like a bus slamming into my chest. No euphoria at all, just everything that can possibly go wrong with using opiates, magnified. Later I would find out that the dose I had taken was equal to about three days’ worth of the drug instantly infused into my 110-lb body, a drug meant for people not expected to live much longer anyway and who were already physically dependent on opiates. I had taken a last-resort drug and surgical anesthetic, and treated it as a recreational substance.
Later, when Googling information about the drug, I would find page after page of experienced drug users warning others that this was a drug that could kill instantly on a first use; that heroin was actually much safer. I’d prefer not to test that theory.
First I couldn’t stop throwing up. Then I couldn’t see straight, or walk. Then someone noticed something was very wrong with me, and I remember being helped somehow. I was sweating buckets, shivering so hard it hurt, and was later told that I had turned blue. My temp was taken; 91 degrees. Hypothermia already. Brain damage is said to occur when your body temp drops that low, though at least with me you won’t be able to notice.
I had to get out of my sweat-soaked clothes and I had blanket after blanket piled on me, as I continued to twitch and shiver until my bones hurt. Then I was out for a few hours.
I woke up, still shaking, but knew I had made it. I never wanted to feel intoxicated again, something I’ve said way too many times. I was still sick, withdrawal-sick. I couldn’t even keep water down. It’s been four days and I am still sick, though I’m able to eat and work.
I don’t have anything profound to say as someone who recently almost died. I don’t cherish the little things more, or love everyone around me harder. I don’t know why I did it. What if I had been alone? What if I had grabbed the identical drug right next to it that was twice the strength?
What’s the issue here – my latent substance abuse problems resurfacing? A serious death wish? Just a bad drug experience? Do I need a program for people who use drugs or a program for people who subconsciously want to die, because who the hell else overdoses on something they have never used before? Or will I just be fine as long as I’m not around other people’s medications?
The next day, I worked on a drug death. He was my age. The resuscitation measures used on him suggested he was an opiate user. He was a large man, but while I made it, he didn’t. Perhaps we had even fallen at the same time. Why am I still here? How come nothing worked on him?
I’ll never know. And I may never know what possessed me to try and recapture a feeling I wanted to leave behind. Was watching some girl in jail get high really just too much for me to handle? Did it break me?
Or do I have far larger, hidden demons?
I don’t have the answers to why I did what I did, but I learned just how much people in this industry really care about one another and I remain forever grateful for the support shown by everyone with whom I have worked this year. People in the funeral industry showed up to support me in jail while my own family said nothing, and they helped me pick myself up again when I fell even harder. We face tragedy and horror every day…and sometimes not only that of the families we serve.