he came in alone, with one small bag of stuff. he walked straight to the nurses' station and did what check-in he had to do quietly and politely. he did not look around him, except that when he was spoken to, he spoke back. he returned greetings. he said his name when introduced but did not seem to be in a condition to learn names.
he looked preoccupied; he stood upright, but his small frame looked weighted and his eyes were sad and clear. sometimes when the new people come in they look crazy or high or terrified or beat up and you know what's ahead of them but this guy looked fine except for the unsettling feeling you got looking at him that he knew what was coming and that it wasn't going to be good.
i watched him pass; i hadn't seen his eyes or heard him speak a word but it was as if i could feel something good and decent in his heart and i just loved something about him and it felt to me as if he had just very manfully walked up to the edge of hell and said to the charge nurse: "well, let's get this started, then."
in a matter of hours it was started. in a few more hours everyone there knew what he was in for. he was detoxing. and although the staff doesn't tell his business, the other patients know enough about what they give him and how they take care of him to know that he's having a very bad detox from both suboxone and from alcohol.
later on if i feel like it, i'll tell you more about suboxone, but for now i'll just say that it's a replacement drug for heroin and it's used both legally and illegally and that withdrawal (or as they say on the wards, "withdraw") from it or any of that class of drug will be hell, but won't kill you, but withdraw from alcohol very well might.
and because of that, they have to have him out in the public areas of the ward. they have to be able to monitor him closely, and that means we all get a front row seat. he gets jittery. he sees bugs. a lot of bugs. he knew it would be this way, and he struggles beyond reasonable expectation to remain calm and to be polite. he apologizes for his shortness of temper.
and he does a thing i have never seen in a detox patient.
often patients in detox ask for as much pharmaceutical help as they can get. often they ask for as much substitution, as much of an easy way out as they can possibly get, as little of a detox as they can possibly get away with.
but this guy asks the charge nurse if she can give him just barely enough of a mild sedative to take away enough of his anxiety about the bugs to allow him to bear it until they go away. she's willing to give him more, but he only wants just enough.
i can only guess at what his blood pressure is; the veins in his neck are visible at a pretty good distance. his face is red. they take his vital signs every few minutes. he passes in and out of consciousness. he pisses himself. he wakes up for a few minutes, sits up, and passes out with his nose in a cup of soda. someone gently moves it so he doesn't have a ring on his face when he wakes up.
he never whines. he never complains. it is obvious that he is uncomfortable. he is so uncomfortable that he is going out of his skin but when he can stay awake enough to keep his eyes open the only thing he can think of to do is to play chess.
so that's what he does. i don't know that he loves chess so much, but i do know that chess is a big enough thing to wrap your brain around. bit by bit i begin to realize that when he's not playing chess or working on a chessboard, he is so uncomfortable in his body that it drives him nuts and he can hardly think straight or even think at all.
but he does not complain or blame. he simply does his best with what he's got.
and that's a chessboard.