What a strange thing: I helped save a life yesterday. Online. Via Facebook. Of someone I haven’t seen in probably ten years. Thus the oddity of the Internet, the incoherent patterns of how we appear and disappear to one another.
Four months ago G. friended me on Facebook – another face from the past to add to the trading card deck we call Friends on the Internet. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but had always liked for his calm and strength and kindness. And so I responded affirmatively to his request. We had a quick chat or two where he filled me in on the difficult details of his recent life (and also his lemurs) and I noted that he seemed to update his status from his worst places of frustration.
When he posted two months ago that he was at the end of his rope due to a Workers Compensation Board claim that had been denied, I put him in touch with my union and asked our WCB specialist to talk to him. I wasn’t sure if we could do anything, but all the time I see workers without advocates who are stymied by the system and most union reps I know will do for the unorganized what they do for paid members. As far as I heard afterwards, G’s case was in a stage where there was nothing for my rep to do at that time but he was told that we could support him on appeal. Not much help, but something. I was glad to offer him something.
But of course it’s not just WCB frustration going on here, but the chronic pain that has arisen from his workplace accident in the first place. There seems to be a certain amount of disbelief on the part of his doctor since they don’t know what exactly is wrong – but the G. I know is as scrupulous as they come – and when he tells the world he is suffering, that is no lie. So yesterday morning he walked into his Doctor’s office crying from his physical and psychic pain, and instead of a mental health intervention, he was given another morphine prescription.
I suspect there might have been some drinking to follow in order to build up his courage for what he did next – which was to take (by his count) 100 morphine tablets and then post that he had done so to his Facebook status. Earlier in the day I had posted in response to a note that alluded to his desire to self-harm – so I was watching out for his updates just in case….. And another friend noticed at the same time.
Of course neither of us had a phone number or address for G. and I got on Facebook and coaxed him to talk to me and give it up or call 911 himself. While I talked to G. my friend tracked down his address and called emergency services. My goal was simply to keep him conscious until they could arrive because once someone passes out in an overdose the system can really shut down fast but despite all of that he went silent about five minutes after the call was made.
And then we waited. I didn’t know if A. had got the right address or if the paramedics had gotten there in time. I didn’t know if G. had done something to further self-harm or had taken the pills earlier than he indicated. When I walked out the door of my office and into the sunshine at 4 o clock yesterday I had no idea whether I had helped G. or merely been the last person he would ever talk to. Either way, it was pretty heavy to contemplate.
I totally get suicide and what drives people to it, as sad as it makes me to think of the people in my life who have left it that way. And I really believe people have the right to end their lives if they feel that deep need. But I couldn’t ever watch it without trying to help – and even though I felt angry about it in the moment yesterday afternoon (why am I in the middle of this anyway?) – I put it in the perspective I always do later: grateful to have been called on to help someone in need.
In any case, G. was reached and taken to the hospital in time and now I see lots of people on his FB wall reaching out to him. I hope that he can find the support he needs to recover and live a better life – even with chronic pain. And I also hope that my friend who called 911 knows that she did the real miracle of saving G’s life while I merely witnessed.