She was a Methadone addict. He was a Meth-head. She was a crack junkie, he loves Xanax. She is a drunk, he likes Lortab so much he’d cut your throat for it. She smokes pot all day and has never, by 35, held any job long enough to make a living. He would lick the needles in the dirty needle box just for the hint of the chemicals he loves.

They’re our scourge, they’re our nightmare. They populate our worst shifts. They are disposition horror stories, because they say they want to die, but also want to leave. Their friends say they’re killing themselves with drugs, but they’ve failed detox over and over. They suck out our souls with convoluted stories designed to cover up their activities. They manipulate us, attacking us in our compassionate vulnerability, using against us the pity we bear (like it or not) like a stethoscope or tongue depressor. The pity we sometimes wish we could discard for convenience, but cannot.
And despite all that, all the ways they destroy their own lives and the lives of their families, I see the same thing. Over and over I see their mothers or fathers nearby. In the corner, or in the waiting room. In the car or in the hallway. At first they mouth the words, ‘can I talk to you in the hall?’ They want us to do something, anything, and we usually cannot. The addict is addicted, and wants to leave as soon as the feeling fades.

Their parents’ eyes are red with tears or exhaustion. Their mothers have mascara streaked faces, their fathers pace like pitiful animals who hoped for so much all those years ago, holding small children on their laps and dreaming of grand lives, health, hope, joy.

After a few years, they just say ‘thanks for your time. I’ll take him home now.’ Or ‘call me when he’s done. And don’t give her anything, please?’ Sometimes, I think they’d almost rather see their children dead than enslaved to the drugs that run them ragged day and night until they drop, sick, penniless and helpless.

And yet it is the glory of humanity that in motherhood, in fatherhood, those parents stand nearby, waiting to help, wanting to help, wanting to ‘give back the years the locusts have eaten,’ as the Bible says God will do. It is the glory of humanity that despite the misery those children cause their parents, their parents show up night after night as advocates, as comforters, as cheerleaders or only as transportation for their little boys and girls, all grown up and addicted to chemicals that poison them night and day.

Let’s not be too hard on them. If they enable, they usually don’t mean to do it. They’re comforting themselves as much as their children. They’re trying to find hope and meaning in terrible situations. And they can’t give up.

I hope we all have such love; and that if (God forbid) it happens to our own, we will have the necessary love to remain by those bedsides, year after year, waiting for our prodigals to return home to love, hope and meaning.

For that, brothers and sisters, doctors, nurses and patients, is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus. We are all prodigals. And we are all wanted back home.
Have a great weekend!


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