Friday, June 1, 2018

So I Guess My Mom Just Carries Around Naloxone Now?

Every time I think my mom can’t surprise me anymore with some crazy, cockamamie thing she’s doing, she drops new info that makes me just shake my head and be like, WOW MOM, that is some crazy, cockamamie thing you're doing. 

She’s turning 73 at the end of this month and, at least for now by the Grace of God/the Universe, she just keeps going at Mach 50,000.

My mom’s career (a.k.a. “mission,” to use her word) has been a decades-long attempt “to improve the health care that disadvantaged people receive and make health care good for people without any choices” (also her words). 

This "mission" has taken slightly different forms over the years.

In the 1970s and 80s, she was focused on the homeless mentally ill population in Northern Manhattan (Washington Heights, Inwood, and Harlem). Around this time, she was offered a job as the head of Harlem Hospital, but turned it down because she thought a Black administrator or physician would be more relatable and therefore better for the patient population. So she stuck with her outpatient clinic in Washington Heights.

“Take your daughter to work day” was an education in severe and chronic mental illness, homelessness, and poverty. I’d cower behind my mothers’ legs when the clinic’s clients talked to themselves. “Why do they dress like they’re in the 1950s?” I’d whisper into the back of her knees. “They have paranoid schizophrenia,” she’d explain. “They hear voices and see things that aren’t there. They’re harmless.” Meanwhile, she was running up to the state capital in Albany every other month, it seemed, to lobby the corrupt New York State legislature for ongoing program funding.

In the mid-1980s, when HIV/AIDS ravaged the city, she shifted her focus to that epidemic and started working with the HIV-positive homeless mentally ill population. As the worst of the American epidemic waned in the 1990s thanks to enormous advocacy efforts by the LGBT community, advancements in anti-retroviral medications, and public health prevention initiatives, she took her "mission" abroad.

Pretty soon, she was securing grants and traveling the world to the places where HIV/AIDS continued to maintain a stronghold: Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Thailand, the Philippines, and Nepal, training health care providers there in how to recognize and treat the mental health symptoms of HIV and AIDS and prevent the disease in cultures that often denied the existence of men having sex with men and were skeptical of western medicine. She developed a rigorous anti-shits protocol in which she’d only eat cooked foods, drink bottled water, and never open her mouth in the shower. “I can’t afford to get sick in these places,” she explained. “I’m too busy working!”

So I don’t know why it should have surprised me when my mom, on this most recent visit to Alaska, just casually dropped that she’s going to start carrying Naloxone (i.e. Narcan) on her person at all times "just in case anyone has an opioid overdose" in her midst.

Since retiring from her state-funded job with a pension, she’s managed to take up three (?) more full time jobs, one of which, apparently, is working on the opioid epidemic somehow? 

I didn’t really absorb the details because I was too busy picturing my little old lady mom hunched over someone in a doorway on the street, plunging a Narcan syringe into their leg (or shoving the nasal spray version up their nose). She was trying to explain the difference between opioid agonists, partial agonists, antagonists, hyperalgesia, and how terrible Big Pharma is (a typical refrain of hers), but all I could think about was this tableau.

Not all heroes wear capes, I guess. Some wear dashikis and Eileen Fisher.

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