Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Bobby, The Extra We Lost

The Extras. OUR Extras. That’s what Dilly (my daughter-in-law) calls all of the kids who were not our natural born children but who nonetheless lived a substantial percentage of their lives in our house. All three of our own had several friends who became Extras. Over time Beth and I morphed from Mr. (or occasionally Dr.) and Mrs. to Mama and Papi for these kids. Many of them are still very much a part of our lives, reunited with our odd little extended family by weddings, christenings, holidays and the like.

Tragically, one of our favorites is now no longer.

My oldest son Dan and I attended Bobby’s memorial service yesterday afternoon. Bobby was once so close with my two older kids and so comfortable in our home that I vividly remember coming home one day to find him at our kitchen counter doing his homework. All alone. No one else in the house. He lifted his head, smiled his trademark goofy smile and flicked the largest, heaviest bangs in the history of banghood out of his eyes, said “hey Papi”, and went back to his books. Neither one of us thought there was anything remotely odd about it at all. Bobby was not one of the Extras who stayed in touch. He drifted away from us as he fell further and further into his addictions and died of an accidental overdose last week.

It’s hard to describe how awkward, how awful the service was yesterday. We recognized almost no one. Dan only knew Bobby’s parents, and I’d never met either one of them. What could I say to them at a time like this? I was really only there for Dan (and by proxy “Lovely Daughter” Megan). There is not a single language in the world that has a word or a name for what we would call a parent who has lost a child. Nothing like “orphan” for the parentless, or widow/widower for the surviving spouse. I’m not sure if either of Bobby’s parents even know that he was our Extra, or knows how much we cared about him once upon a time.

Have you been to a funeral or a memorial for a young one who succumbed to his addiction? To the great credit of everyone in Bobby’s family they didn’t evade the issue at all. Three significant figures from his unsuccessful attempts to leave that life spoke. All of the happy memories were of his very young childhood, as if the Bobby who’d lived so much of his life at Casa Blanco had died at high school graduation. What can you say about a life that was 10 years shorter than the number of years one had lived? The other funerals of youngsters who have died have been filled with the lament of potential left behind. There was none of that for Bobby, only the memories of the child and the struggle of having watched 10 years of pain.

What is it about opiate addictions in our country now? We have had other substances that have been a scourge on our society, notably crack cocaine in the 80′s and 90′s, but this is different somehow. For one thing, while crack destroyed lives it didn’t end them. 30,000 people died from inadvertent opiate overdoses in the U.S. in 2016, most of them under the age of 30. For whatever reason 1/9 of them occurred in Ohio where we live. It seems like rather a bad business model–don’t you think?–to pump up the purity and strength of your product to the point that you kill off a meaningful percentage of your customer base. And yet here we are, more and more people dying each year from overdoses.

What is in the news on a daily basis is the problem of addiction created through the prescription of opiates by physicians, addiction which must then be addressed on the street if or when the prescriptions end. While that scenario is certainly real and needs addressing, we hear more about it because of the irresistible angle of big Pharma companies and their profits, and the equally irresistible urge to find someone or something to blame and punish. This is not Bobby’s story. Bobby, like so many, many of his peers today and for literally centuries of todays, fell prey to an illness that could only have been treated by prevention. There are those among us who cannot resist the siren song of any number of substances once they’ve had their first taste. I do not know what gateway drug it was that walked Bobby into that world; it was an opiate that escorted him out of our world in the end. A pox on the cretins who opened the exit door.

I am left grasping at straws. What can we do to prevent these senseless deaths? While I am a physician and a student of health policy, nothing in my training or experience is helpful here. Why is there so much “hot” product out there on the streets? What is it about this substance that makes it so difficult to leave behind once the addiction sets in? Our society is one in which we are convinced that someone is always to blame, hence the vitriol directed at the manufacturers of the legal version of the opiates that so many young people are abusing. I’m sorry, but it’s not intuitive to me that going after them is going to help the Bobbys of the world stay alive. The feeling I have is one of utter helplessness.

Message? Lesson? Sadly, I’m afraid, I have neither to offer. Bobby is gone and I am sad. Had he not been lost to us, had we remained a part of his life would there have been a different ending? Well, the story arc would likely have been different, but history has shown that the ending would likely have been the same. You never know, though, and that makes me sadder, still. You never really know, right? We would have tried, Beth and I, because he was one of ours. He was one of our Extras. For many years, he was one of mine.

It seems only yesterday that he’d found us, and we, him. Now his is lost to all of us. Forever.

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