A few weeks back I was working in the triage area at work. Triage is the place where you are seen first after checking into the emergency department and evaluated by a nurse. This evening in particular we were presented with patient after patient checking in to detox or seeking help for suicidal ideation.
We had a patient check into the emergency department one evening wanting to detox from heroin. She was a young girl accompanied by her husband. She had soft blonde hair and was pretty although you could tell her drug use had aged her some and she looked tired out and worn down. She was visibly pregnant in her second trimester. She has used for a number of years and always told herself that she wouldn’t get addicted, that she would quit, told herself that she had to quit now that she was pregnant but had found she couldn’t do it on her own and needed help which is why she had come to the ER.
As I sat in front the computer in the triage area, she sat in a chair next to me while her husband stood close by and I observed her demeanor. She was quiet, timid, almost like she was scared and mostly presented the facts.
Outside of the necessary information needed to complete her triage note, I made conversation with her. She was pregnant with their first child. They were having a little boy. They had a few names picked out but hadn’t landed on one. She smiled with every question she answered about the baby but also seemed like she was trying to conceal her emotions.
As I wrapped up my note, I confirmed her name and date of birth to ensure she had been correctly registered. That day was her birthday. I told her happy birthday and that I thought it was such a neat time she had chosen to come in for detox; starting a new year of life, soon to have a new life in her son and eventually live a new life being drug free.
Her eyes flooded with tears and said she was embarrassed that she was even sitting there in the first place. She confessed the shame she felt and that she already felt like a terrible mother for using drugs while she was pregnant. My heart broke for her. Of course she felt ashamed and of course she was embarrassed, what human wouldn’t be? I leaned over and took her hands in mine, I looked her in the eye and told her that what she was doing that night was so very brave. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know if everything would turn out ok. I didn’t know how her road of recovery would go. I didn’t know if her baby would be ok. I didn’t know if her marriage would survive her addiction and recovery process. But what I did know if that what she was doing that night was brave.
What she had chosen to do may be one of the hardest things she’s ever done but it’ll likely be the bravest thing she ever does. She cried and cried and her husband moved in close, placing his arm around her shoulders.
Her bravery was inspiring. She walked into an unknown place, told the truth to a complete stranger and asked for help. That is incredibly brave.
She had so many strikes against her, so many things that made her an easy target for judgment. She was pregnant, a drug user, an addict.
She had come expecting for people to be unkind, expecting to be judged according to her lifestyle and actions.
But despite the reality she could have faced with the unkind words, disapproving stares and judgment from others, she came because she needed help and she wanted to change.
And that is truly brave.