The Overdose

11 May 2021

Around 2:40 in the afternoon, a man in a black SUV pulls halfway into a spot, puts his car in park, and passes out.

At 2:58, Lisa pages us over our headsets to ask what she should do.

A customer says there’s a man passed out in his car.

I say, Call 911.

My boss and I are on our way to the front, where Lisa is standing at the automatic doors. I say again, Call 911. She looks at the boss, who says, who looks at me, then says, Call 911. So Lisa finally does.

Just before the clock strikes 3, you can see the two of us toddling across the parking lot towards the vehicle, fumes sputtering from the exhaust pipe. I stand at the driver’s side window, my boss directly across at the passenger’s side. I’m calm on the outside as I page Lisa over the headset to tell the dispatcher that the man is barely breathing.

His eyes are as open as the windows, but all I can see is white. For some reason, I know his eyes are blue. Every so often, his mouth, locked in a permanent yawn, sucks in air that gargles at the back of his throat. He reminds me of the desert. He looks like all the water has been drawn from his body. His skin is grey. All his teeth are black around the gums, and there are red patches all over the parts of his body I can see. I’m not supposed to, but I touch him. Grab his shoulder and squeeze a little. 

It feels unreal. He is frozen silly putty and bone. My boss opens the passenger’s side door and turns the car off, just in case he jerks awake and hits the gas. He is handicapped, but I don’t know how yet. I can tell because there are those sticks for the gas and brake poking up into the driver’s seat. I follow the sticks to his lap and realize he only has one leg. It’s smaller than my arm, the gauntness outlined by a pair of bright blue, plaid pajama pants that look like they’re glued to his skin.

And then the gargling stops. I can’t see his chest moving. Nothing is moving.

From across the parking lot a young guy shouts, Is anyone doing anything about this?

It feels like forever. At some point Lisa brings her phone outside and hands it to my boss, who puts it on speaker and hands it to me. They ask me how old he is. I say mid thirties even though he looks thousands of years old. I tell them he’s not breathing.

The dispatcher says to get him out of the car, to lay him on his back. In my head I imagine us dropping his stiff body onto the concrete and watching him shatter into dust. We lean his seat back and unbuckle the belt, and I think we are going to try. The paramedics pull in. Finally.

The only thing the woman parked next to the SUV is bothered about is not being able to get in her car with her boxed hair dye. One of the paramedics hops back into the ambulance and pulls it forward so she can carry on with her day.

They’re only there for seconds before one of the paramedics asks if we rolled up the man’s sleeve, or if it was already like that. I hear another one say there’s something in his lap. I don’t remember seeing anything aside from a skeletal leg and a missing one. Maybe it was lost in the folds of the plaid, or maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

When they pull his body from the car it looks like the skins of my dog’s toys after all the fluff is ripped out. I think of Angela’s daughter. How she died in the middle of the kitchen floor, foaming at the mouth, right in front of her mother. The paramedics toss the man on a stretcher, shove him in the ambulance, and drive away.

I don’t remember hearing any sirens.

A police SUV rolls up and out steps the gray-haired chief, maskless, with a giant grin on his face, ready to talk about what he ate for lunch. I want to slap him. Just another Tuesday for this fucking guy.

I go back inside. I’m hot, and my chest aches every time I breathe in. I feel like I have to take a shit even though I don’t. At this point, I’m only sad about the man, whose name I will never learn. My eyes water, but only a little. I swallow the snot sitting at the back of my throat. Only a couple of tears come out.

It is only when my boss pulls up the outside camera footage, and I see all the people, at least a dozen, walking past, peering in, and carrying on as though all was right with the world for twenty fucking minutes that I feel almost uncontrollably angry.

I understand the bystander effect. I understand that everyone is afraid of each other right now. There’s the pandemic. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of being canceled for saying the wrong words or doing the wrong thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to instruct someone to call 911 or do it myself while on the clock. Maybe I am a different sort of bystander, but I have never hesitated to dial. Not when the paralyzed man fell in the doorway onto the side of his face. Not when the woman with two full carts started to do snow angels in the aisle around Christmastime, babbling something about the Virgin Mary to the fluorescent lights overhead. Not when the young girl had some sort of mental breakdown screamed in agony in the stationary aisle. I know with all of myself that if I’d seen that man, I would not have just walked past, peered in, and carried on. Even if all I wanted to do was get home for the day.

It’s 6:30 and I still feel sick. I want to write about this more, but I can’t today.

12 May 2021

I slept like shit and woke up in a bad mood, still thinking about the overdosed guy and all the sorry sacks who decided their errands were more important than a human’s life. I know it’s more complicated than that. Or maybe I don’t know that it is. I just felt fucked up from it still.

Sarah told me to take a mental health day if I needed it. Every day I feel like I need a mental health day, so I went in. A few hours into the day, a sweet-sounding lady officer called from a couple towns over and asked if I could review the cameras to see what time the man left yesterday. I was relieved to hear he wasn’t brain dead or all dead, but also confused about how they’d let someone who just overdosed leave the hospital.

On my lunch break I read about overdose practices, and surprisingly it’s normal to release an overdosed person within an hour of the incident. Seems kind of fucked up to not offer some sort of mental health screening, but what the hell do I know? I guess it would depend on the severity of the overdose, the frequency of the overdosing, the type of overdose. I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe the guy was poor and uninsured, so they needed the space cleared out ASAP.

Apparently, or anyway, I don’t know which word to use, he’s missing now. He was last seen leaving our parking lot at 5:55pm, trailed by the hospital Lyft driver who spent over half an hour helping the man get out of the taxi and into his own car.

The footage of the entire thing is covered by a giant, emboldened time stamp, but you can see doors on both vehicles opening and closing, opening and closing, for the entire length of a sitcom before the man finally pulls out, the Lyft driver right behind him. The whole thing looked sketchy, but what the hell do I know?

The officer, when I explain about the doors opening and closing, tells me the Lyft driver was probably just trying to help the guy, since he’s paraplegic. So you’re telling me a guy who’s only got one leg and paralysis in the remaining one can overdose in the parking lot of a retail chain, take a ride in an ambulance, get a shot of naloxone or whatever and he’s on his way with no counseling or monitoring, and then proceed to disappear off the face of the earth all within the span of a feature length film, and that’s just how it is? It just seems to me, and who am I anyway, to be extremely, wholly fucked up.

The news of the man’s new status as a missing person put me in a sour mood all over again, and even though the female officer, with her sweet-sounding voice assured me they were doing everything they could to find the man, I pictured that dumbass sheriff from yesterday with his grin, and I felt angry and sad and confused why no one actually gives a shit about anyone else anymore.

I’m walking around fatigued and world-weary and hating every goddamned customer who asks me anything because none of it actually matters.

Who was this man, anyway? Where did his leg go? Was he diabetic? A veteran perhaps? At the very least, he was someone’s child at some point. With a mother and a father and hopes and dreams, even if they’d all been shot up into oblivion. Drug problems don’t happen just because someone decides they want to have a drug problem. Did he want to die? To disappear? If so, why? What pushed him over the edge? He at the very least had the wherewithal to pull into a parking spot before passing out, keeping those around him on the road safe. He showed more care for his fellow man than they were willing to show him. And maybe that’s why he was sad. Because no one actually gives a shit about anyone else anymore. They just like to pretend they do.

I was prepared to hate everyone for the rest of the day.

But then the truck came. The saint, the angel, the absolute blessing of a driver, with his thick, long black hair braided down his back, helped us set up the rollers and blasted 90s hits from a speaker that boomed against the walls of the trailer while we unloaded. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen my boss that happy. In that moment, I wished the two of us were drunk on Jack and Cokes, dancing like white girls on the sticky floors of some hole in the wall bar far from the fluorescents, far from the scene we witnessed yesterday. In some alternate dimension, free of coronavirus and impossible metrics, just a couple of gals getting down to Savage Garden, our eyes watering from the nostalgia of it all.

I felt happy. I also felt guilty about being happy. I realized how much I was going to miss these people. Not company name. The people. Candy with her signature laugh. Grace with her booming voice. Maisie with her innocent bargain hunting. Anna with her complete lack of awareness about how truly wonderful she is. Lisa with the humming. Lydia with her matter-of-factness. John with his aggressive, yet not fully thought out libertarian-ness. Mary with the softness hugged by a slight doom and gloom. All of them. All of their things. I love them. And I will never see most of them again after June 1st.

Because that’s life.

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