Drug abuse leads to scarred, inaccessible veins in the addicted. It is a common problem, particularly in much of Appalachia. These men and women come to our hospitals with horrible infections, heart disease, stroke, trauma; the list is long. They are at risk for so many things.

All too often I see such a patient and place my orders, but later a nurse or lab tech comes to my desk and says ‘we can’t get IV access. He has no veins.’ Meaning ‘he has none that we can find.’

Of course, we have contingencies. We sometimes place large ‘central lines’ in bigger vessels in the neck, chest or groin. In life-threatening emergencies we may use a drill to place an ‘intraosseous line’ which goes directly through bone and into the cavern of rich blood vessels inside the upper arm or lower leg.

A less invasive but more common technique we now use is the ultrasound guided IV. An ultrasound image helps us locate vessels and we can watch real-time as the needle passes through the wall of the vein, followed by the flash of red in the IV itself showing that our attempt was successful.

I was placing such a line recently. My patient was long-suffering. He did not complain about what was clearly a painful thing. A look across his body while I attempted the line showed wounds and scars of various sorts. Not only were his vein thick and hardened, his skin was the same, and with mark after mark of the hard life he had lived.

Infections were scattered about, the skin red, assorted areas draining from the many times he had injected and the many infections that had resulted. These were the reason he needed an IV. All of those wounds have consequences. They can lead to loss of limb, blood stream infection with shock (or sepsis), even endocarditis, an infection of the valves of the heart. Those many wounds, over time, hasten death. Overdose is not the only reason our addicted patients die.

These patients are heart wrenching. As it has been said, ‘nobody sets out to be an addict.’ They live in the grip of chemicals they never imagined would rule them. They are grasped and clawed and gnawed by methamphetamine, by heroin, by fentanyl. They are possessed almost as profoundly as the demon possessed man who lived among the tombs in the region of the Gerasens in scripture; the one who was inhabited by the demon named Legion, ‘for we are many.’ Rarely is there only one drug which wrecks them. But I digress…a bit.

Because his wounds were so varied, his body so broken, because his condition required that we pierce his skin deeply and repeatedly I could not help but be reminded of Easter. I could not help but think of Jesus, pierced and bruised and beaten and bleeding.

This patient had pierced himself with needles for years. And now I drove them deep into his body as well. Of course I am no Roman torturer. No spear was passed into his side, no crown of thorns; but wounds still.

The wounds I placed, however, were intended to help bring comfort and healing to the draining wounds all over his body. A better piercing, perhaps. But painful just the same. A cleaner piercing, to be sure. But the same pain fibers firing, over and over with every pass of the needle. The same path up the spinal cord, the same areas of the brain firing over and over.

There are many who find the story of the crucifixion repugnant. And there are those who consider it the mark of a dark god who would allow it. Certainly there are plenty who consider it all myth and fairy tale, fabricated reproductions of older, more ancient stories.

And although most historians would disagree, some even say that this Jesus fellow never existed at all. It is a tenuous position, but it has its adherents.

I am not here to condemn any dissent. Although I am a believer, I understand the arguments of detractors.

What I am here to say is that this story, real or mythic, of a God-man pierced and wounded for a deeply wounded race of humans, is at the very least a staggering and shattering story. And in a very real way it can only inspire hope.

If it is true, then what happened 2000 years ago is more than we dared ever dream in our bleeding, draining, shattered, scarred lives. It means all our wounds and piercings can be healed and our lives brought back from death. It means that that the Creator in flesh was tormented and wounded, crushed and pierced with the suffering masses and so took death, and shook death, to its own death.

If it is false, then it is still remarkable that men or women themselves could concoct a story of such compassion. And what a story! A tale that dared offer fellow humans even the faintest hope that that transcendent love and miracles could emerge from the commonplace cruelty of man. If humans could even imagine it then they might try to emmulate it, and love might still triumph.

I write this on Easter Sunday evening. Children all about have consumed their weight in candy. Pastel dresses, shirts and ties have been put away. Hams or lambs wrapped up and tucked into the fridge for later this week. Easter eggs (for those who can afford eggs) have been hunted; some were not found but will make a lovely evening for an errant racoon on her nightly rounds.

But the suffering addicted and other afflicted? They still lie in hospitals hoping for comfort. They continue to be pierced by scalpels, needles, loneliness and regret.

They do not hope for normal weeks, and they have long since used up resources and money and burned all of their bridges. They cannot just ‘go to the psychiatrist,’ or go back to their jobs. They are half-way in the sealed tombs.

But THE tomb, we believe, was burst open leaving the wounds and scourging in the past, powerless.

And for those with nothing else, well that’s probably a story worth hearing.



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