Oliver Sacks and the loneliness of a great humanitarian doctor.

In my long season of heartbreak and loneliness I once more look for a friend. I’m riding the tide of what Freud (who may have been wrong about everything but was also right about everything) called melancholia. Cognitive behaviorists might call it a slew of distortions.

In truth, I’ve many beautiful friends. Who show up. Clean the fridge in my new apartment. Set up my living room. Pour wine spritzers and sit on the deck and roll eyes at our happy, healthy, wrestling children.

So why this aching loneliness that just won’t quit? I fall in love with strangers four times a day. A quirky gesture, a turn of phrase, a graceful gait. That’s all it takes. But it’s unrequited; this sublimated love that has no real grit… maybe that’s what I can muster. Love that can’t be returned and will never be rejected. It’s utterly secret.

I’m in love with the world and my life in it. I’ll sound dramatic (no surprise) but every small accomplishment, every trip I take or task I finish I feel as though I’ve snatched it out from the maw of death. Ha! You can’t take it away now, I’ve lived it! I’ve moon gazed in the pouring rain with bare feet on steaming asphalt. I’ve eaten just-picked berries! I’ve smoothed the hair of my fluish child until he slept in my arms. It’s mine forever infernal eternity.

As is often the case, the right book finds me. I’m reading Oliver Sack’s memoir, On the Move. The fates saved it for the exact right moment. Oliver was not at all like me demographically. He was not like me in temperament. But we share two characteristics that buoy me when I feel low. First, the treatment of medical science as a humanity. Medicine as observation and experimentation in bettering our human existence. It indulges curiosity and regards no dogma in pursuit of understanding, helping, and healing.

Second, a protective self-enforced loneliness. Oliver was uniquely capable in his role as benevolent understander and wizened healer because of the isolation in which he held himself. Hundreds of close friends, thousands of adoring colleagues, tens of thousands of grateful patients, millions of entranced readers, but almost zero binding couple or familial loves in his life. However, I can attest: the grey tedium of monk-like living makes the wider world explosive with color, intrigue, stories to be learned, mysteries to solve, and hallucinations to manifest. That, I suppose, is the trade off.

I take heart that a mind so bright and wide walked the earth. If over the course of my life I manage one one-hundredth of his cleverness, curiosity, tender care of the sick, and generous story telling I would happily suffer an existence one hundred times as lonely.

Be mesmerized by one of his last interviews and storytelling sessions.

This is the gratitude I find at the bottom of the I’m feeling sorry for myself well. It is great and deep and sustaining.

Public overdoses and my friend is a lifesaving superhero at a all-day-breakfast restaurant.

What were you up to at 3AM? Oh, just looking for an article about the increase in public overdoses of opioids and what that says about the power of addiction, the danger of the fentanyl-laced drug, and the will of people to, despite their dire state, be saved.

I couldn’t find the specific article, but I promise it exists and this is not an academic publication so sue me. The NYT article below about availability of Narcan as a health and safety measure like CPR training and AEDs in public places is good, too. I’m for it because I’m for life saving.

I’m going to tell someone else’s story; I’ve asked permission. This happened recently. Of the six of you who read this five probably know her. To know her is to love her, get ready to love this too, especially if you’re nursey and can do that thing we do where we care about people to a degree that we dedicate our lives to them but at our core lies a daaaark and morbid sense of humor.

So our friend is a recent PhD in nursing. A person who commiserated with me in when I was walking in the valley of clinical care is scary gross by saying “I knew it wasn’t for me the first time I emptied a peritoneal dialysis bag.” She’s an empath to the nth degree. Terrifically gifted in the field of psychology. Destined to be great to innumerable patients and, if there is justice, the wider field of psych/nursing/medicine. She is however not into emergency or critical care.

She’s in a medium sized city in the south, enjoying her favorite breakfast-all-day chain restaurant with her man, just having given their orders to their waiter who looks exactly like you would expect a breakfast-all-day chain restaurant waiter to look. The youngish ones. In the kitchen there is a commotion being made. Staff is peeling away from the dining room, forming a crowd. SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING is hollered. Our friend, the gifted psych nurse, is getting a look from her man (also a doctor of not medicine).

IS ANYONE HERE A DOCTOR?

Shit.

She’s getting the go get ‘em tiger from her fella. She rises, whispers to the backs of the crowd “I’m a nurse.”

SHE’S A NURSE” Hollers her dude with the authoritative bass of a public lecturer. The sea of people parts.

It’s their waiter, passed out on the floor of the breakfast-all-day restaurant kitchen. She is hella smart, so clinical person or not she can handle an OD. She activates that emergency response system (call 911, damn it), asks for an AED (there is none–what?!), checks that carotid pulse for not more than ten seconds (absent), and starts high quality chest compressions times thirty at a rate of not less than one hundred per minute with two rescue breaths between cycles.

Woman saved a life, people. SHE SAVED A LIFE.

EMS comes in narcannons blazing and brings the victim back. Poof. Death-be-gone.

Sigh. So that is our girl. My girl. My nurse friend and mentor. It feels good to know someone this gangster.

In summation: the opioid crisis is real, everyone must learn CPR, Narcan should be in first aid kits, and let’s address institutional cycle of poverty creating helplessness and hopelessness in economically depressed areas such as the stripped-bare resource colonies of the southeast leading to physical manifestations of what might be at the root existential disability and the introduction of opioids.