The Athlete

“You don’t know  me anymore. I’m just a junkie rat.”

By Anonymous

“By the time Tom was 35-years-old, he was taking 30 or more #4 codeine pills a day, just to avoid withdrawal symptoms.”

My twin brother Tom was a great listener, kind-hearted and generous to a fault. He loved kids and had a penchant for entertaining and having fun. Being twins, we had a great connection. 

Often, I’d start thinking about him and he’d call—or vice versa.

When Tom was 25, he got into a major auto accident and injured his back. The pain made him seek out a doctor recommended by a friend with similar back pain.

The doctor suggested surgery. Tom agreed to it, but in the meantime the doctor freely dispensed pain medication. When Tom would complain of pain, the doctor would either increase the dosage or the quantity, sometimes both.

After back surgery he seemed to be doing well (with plenty of codeine to mask any pain), so Tom returned to work. But the codeine messed up his concentration and soon he lost his job. 

He got another job, but again he couldn’t focus and lost that job, too. Still, there were plenty of those little white pills to mask the physical pain. He got another job and again failed. There to help him beat the blues was that little bottle the doctor kept refilling. His back hurt more and he got more pills.

His wife got tired of Tom’s pain and them not having any money, so she took their daughter and left. By then, Tom used the pills to get past the back pain and the emotional pain. The doctor would cheerfully write him another prescription, no questions asked.

Obviously, his back operation had failed. In fact, several other patients of the same doctor had similar outcomes. All had been given massive doses of pain killers to keep them quiet, but eventually a malpractice suit was filed against the doctor and the pain-killer RX stopped.

A new doctor was sympathetic to Tom’s plight and wrote him several more pain prescriptions. Eventually, the new doctor told Tom he couldn’t keep renewing his pain meds, so Tom ditched him and started doctor shopping. He secured pain killer prescriptions from doctors all over town so he’d never have to face the possibility of running out.

By the time Tom was 35-years-old, he was taking 30 or more #4 codeine pills a day, just to avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

He had acquired a reputation with the doctors in town and it became hard for him to get new scrips. However, heroin and alcohol were plentiful on the street so he began using both to kill his emotional and physical pain.

He mastered the art of scamming money from the family. One month he conned our parents out of more than $2,000 for car repairs on a car he’d sold the month before for drug money.

He stole my father’s coin collection and sold it at a flea market. It was a valuable collection that my father had worked on for four decades. 

After one of his many detox sessions, he emerged very depressed. I suggested we both make a list of his qualities and compare them. After several minutes, I had an impressive list to show him. 

After I showed him mine, he showed me his. His list had only two items:
1. Good listener 
2. Junkie rat. 

“Not true,” I said. He said, “You just don’t know me anymore. I am a junkie rat. See that television? I don’t see it as a television; I see it as two fixes.”

Soon after that conversation he shot a pure dose of heroin and ended up in intensive care. He was 43-years-old. At the hospital, the doctor said only immediate family could visit him. The doctor asked if I was his daughter. That‘s how bad he looked. 

When he was finally well enough to go home, he had been weaned off drugs in the eight days in ICU and seven more days of hospitalization. 

I am stunned when his physicians prescribed “maintenance doses” of pain killers upon his discharge.

Of course, he went back to abusing drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he got caught holding up a gas station and was sent to jail. It was there he had a stroke, then another more massive one within 24 hours. 

He was completely paralyzed. My 75-year-old mother just about went crazy trying to get him into a care facility. Six months after his release date, she finally found him a spot 40 miles away. She was traveling the 80 miles a day to visit him and still trying to maintain her household. She was killing herself.

Six months later, Tom contracted pneumonia and died. 

What a waste of the promising, fun-loving, talented, intelligent, handsome, kind-hearted, generous brother I once knew. His downfall will haunt me the rest of my life.

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