Friday, February 12, 2010

Liz, Again (No Good Deed Goes Unpunished)

Liz was in, looking sick, distressed, pulling out an envelope full of medical forms for me to see. She showed me six prescriptions and gave me the copay amounts for each. They totaled about $21.00, which seemed reasonable to me. Liz often comes in needing copays. She stays a couple hours, washing up, picking out new clothes, weeping, and chatting, and bragging, always leaving in a visibly better mood. This time, however, one of Angela's community health care crew pulled me aside to talk about Liz.

Without giving any privileged medical information, the woman told me how badly Liz had acted out at the hospital. "Showing her tail" was the phrase used. I tried to believe that was a metaphor. Unfortunately, it was not.

I told her that of all our battered clients, Liz was the one most frequently beaten, that she goes through long periods in which she seems to suffer a serious physical trauma nearly every week. The woman nodded in ready comprehension, "Hmm hmm, with that mouth," she said. No argument there. This time Liz had been acting out with the health care providers who were trying to get her into the long term rehab she needed to save her life. "She doesn't want the prescriptions. She's dope sick," the woman concluded.

And there I was about to hand Liz enough cash for two hits of heroin at the same time that our group was swelling from its normal size of 5 to 15 to more like 30, when I needed to leave YANA to pick up a volunteer who had generously made lunch for the crowd, when a tired-looking middle aged woman who had been procrastinating for months over reentering the job market had finally decided that she was ready to work on her resume with me, and, when, oh, yes, Kimberly had shown up with her nephew (see the previous post). I took the coward's way out, got the health care worker to agree to take Liz to get the prescriptions filled, and hurried out the door to get the lunch and volunteer, stopping only to tell Liz that she was getting a ride to the drug store. Liz reacted with a lot of quick talk about how she didn't need a ride. She was in a hurry. Nobody needed to treat her like that. She needed her medicine right now -- in other words, with all the anger and agitation you would expect from a junkie being denied a fix. Whether Liz is on drugs again (likely) or whether she was that overwhelmed by a delay in getting her usual fifth of vodka (also entirely likely), she was in no shape for me to leave, and I was in no position to stay and try to -- I don't know -- talk her out of needing drugs or booze? I left. She was gone by the time I returned, and there were plenty of other things to do then.

It wasn't until the next week that I found out that Liz had sat in the open area of YANA loudly cursing the health care work in front of the other women, that she had screamed so much in the car that she was dropped off at the drugstore rather than supervised there, that the health care worker and Angela then had words about whether the rules even permitted her to drive a client anywhere. . . In other words, no good deed goes unpunished. You can't care about people's recovery more than they do. Some people can not be helped. Liz is Exhibit A for a whole host of truisms.

And yet, in frequent, but very short intervals, Liz can be loving and funny and kind. She holds on, holds on valiantly, to a kind of cowboy pride in her own sexy toughness. She also seems to go out looking for trouble, daring a world in which dares are answered with gun butts to the head, a pair of girls kicking her in the ribs and face once they've gotten her down, a boyfriend who hits her with his fists. Then she basks in whatever love she can get, gets back up and swaggers right out there again. Liz in other words, is still full of life, however twisted and self defeating that life may be. The next time I'll probably just put everything else on hold and go get the medicine myself.

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