When a young friend overdoses

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Experiencing the loss of a friend brings a new perspective to working in addiction medicine.
Experiencing the loss of a friend brings a new perspective to working in addiction medicine.

An old friend of mine died a few days ago from a drug overdose. He was 24 years old.

He lived just up the street from my home. I knew him for most of his life, and he was sparkling as a child. My wife and have been friends with his parents for decades, and I worked as a nanny for “the kids,” as my wife and I called them.

My first stint was when he was 2 years old, and his brothers were 4 and 6. He was the cutest 2-year-old I've ever known. He was happy, funny, sensitive, and had a remarkably developed personality for that age. He loved to laugh and play, and one of his most amazing features was his sense of empathy, which I've seldom seen in a 2-year-old.

When I first started nannying for him, I was still learning his routine. And on day 1 when it came time for him to take his mid-day nap, I had no idea how the process worked. So he showed me.

 

He went to his crib and stood ready to be hoisted in, and so in he went. But I could tell as he stood and looked up at me expectantly that clearly there was more to this process. He sensed my unsureness and cheerfully said, “Binky!” His blanket was on the floor of the bedroom, so I quickly fetched it and presented it to him. But there was more.

He looked up at me again with his eyebrows furrowed. “Bobby!” he said enthusiastically, and away I went to get his bottle. He took it from me, lay down in the crib, got himself cuddled up in his blanket, put the bottle in his mouth, and beamed up at me. He looked proud of me—a signal from him that I had done a good job.

I continued to nanny for him and his brothers frequently over the years, and while I loved them like my own, they certainly could be a handful. I later did another nanny stint, when the little guy was 6 or 7. He was earnest and engaged, and often offered hilarious observations. Once when we were all watching TV—the kids, their dad, my wife, and me—we had a habit of turning off the volume during commercials. After a few times of doing that, the little guy strongly objected, stating, “If we can't hear the commercials, how am I supposed to know about all the products?” We all burst into laughter, but he was very serious about this.

When I started to nanny for them the second time around, the kids and I would traipse around the city to find ways to keep them engaged and occupied. Sometimes they were impossible to corral, particularly in the car. Once when the little guy was annoying his brothers in the back seat, and after about the fifth warning, I said, “Okay, that's it, no TV this afternoon,” and he burst into the most dramatic tears I had ever seen. One of his older brothers quickly weighed in, saying, “Jim, I think that's unfair. I don't think what he was doing should result in such a strong punishment.” All of this coming from kids between 5 and 10. I weighed the testimony, and agreed to reverse the no-television edict. The little guy looked so happy to hear that his sentence had been stayed.

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