gary’s story – part five

and now the saga continues: of my baby brother’s journey from bright, precocious boy to deceitful, manipulative drug addict.

when i retrieved gary from the wichita falls jail, he was in terrible shape.  he had been living on the streets for quite some time and when he was arrested for petty larceny, they stripped him naked, put him in a cell with a concrete floor, and hosed him down (or so he tells me).  what is beyond refute is that he laid in the floor of that cell, pried up the edge of the metal drain, and sawed on his wrists until he was bleeding profusely.  finding gary in that condition, the sheriff called me and invited me to take gary off his hands.

gary lived for a short time in a rented mobile home in chickasha (by this time he was receiving social security disability payments) until i could convince him to get help.  we found a long-term residential treatment program in oklahoma city called drug recovery, inc.  when i checked him in, i found a scary place with a rough clientele and an humorless, unsympathetic staff, but gary seemed resigned to his fate.  they told me that his family would be allowed no contact for at least 30 days, but that gary could write.  that first couple of weeks, i received several encouraging letters from gary.  he told me that d.r.i. was exactly what he needed, and he was planning to turn his life around.  the next week, i was surprised to get a phone call from gary.  when i asked how he had managed to call, he explained that he had been transferred to the hospital and that he was dying.  

when i arrived at university medical center, gary was being attended by a large group of doctors.  the physician in charge took me aside and explained that my brother had an unidentifiable staph infection and if they were to do nothing, he would live for a week.  and even with the most aggressive treatment available, he may last a month.  i called gary’s wife and gave her the news, and i began to help my brother prepare for death.  i made videotapes for his wife and each of his sons, and i talked to him about his soul.  he told me that he believed the bible, but he couldn’t see how god could forgive him for the life he’d lived.  i implored him to put his pre-conceived notions aside and cry out to god.  he promised he would.

a few days later, i got a call from another doctor: a relentless, young infectious disease specialist named gene voskuhl.  dr. voskuhl told me he had, by his own initiative, cultured gary’s infection, identified the source, and had found an antibiotic that would subdue gary’s infection.  also, dr. voskuhl was prescribing a new aids “cocktail,” and had found a nursing home that specialized in aids patients that had agreed to take gary.  over the next two years, dr. voskuhl saved gary’s life at least two more times.  when the end of gary’s life was near, dr. voskuhl called me personally to let me know, and after gary died, dr. voskuhl called to express his sympathy.  i could never get dr. voskuhl to admit to me whether or not he was a christ-follower, but he is one of the most christ-like people i have ever met.

over the next two years, i fought against gary’s worst impulses when he would not.  i rescued him when he got in trouble, and i intervened when facility after facility kicked him out for unruly and antisocial behavior.  i couldn’t understand why gary wouldn’t change his life.  i couldn’t grasp what it meant to be an addict.

one gracious lady, the administrator of a beautiful nursing facility, told me that she believed if gary could just get treatment…get “over the hump” as she called it…he would be just fine.  she suggested i take him to griffin hospital in norman and check him into their 30-day alcoholic treatment program.  i took off work one day, drove gary to norman, and received one of the most painful, yet valuable lessons of my life.

gary and i sat down in the waiting room.  when he was called back, i opened the book i had brought and settled in for a long wait.  after five minutes, gary came out and said, “okay, we can go.”  i couldn’t believe it.  when i quizzed him about what would happen next, he had no answers.  i went back to speak with the admissions counselor and encountered a severe lady, small of stature but huge of deportment, who told me that gary was not a candidate for their program. “but he’s an alcoholic,” i pleaded, “and he wants to quit.”  a former alcoholic herself, she asked if she could be direct.  “please,” i replied, quite naively.  she stuck her finger in my face and said, “sir, you are the problem.  you rescue gary because you want him to thank you and think you’re a great brother.  well, he is incapable.  he is an addict.  and until you stop saving him and let him realize the pain of responsibility for his actions, he will never stop.”  she is the first person in my life to label me with the term “co-dependent.”

i left in a huff, highly offended.  the more i thought about her words, however, the more i saw the truth in them.  from that day on, i determined to totally change the way i related to gary.  i realized that love is sometimes best expressed by saying “no”…especially when it comes to dealing with an addict.  i began to see that i was not helping gary or myself by trying to get him to embrace my values.  i began to understand that i cannot save someone who does not want to be saved, even my baby brother.

a hard lesson, but it has served me well in the days since.

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