Paying The Price

About two weeks ago, my chest started bothering me. I couldn’t really describe the feeling; it was like an itching across the inside of my chest. I didn’t know whether it was my heart or my lungs.

When I was 11 years, I started smoking Camel non-filters and smoked regularly from then until my last cigarette on April 24, 1999. I’d say I smoked one to three packs a day for about 40 years.

When I was using drugs, I smoked even more. Back when I started shooting dope, there were no needle exchanges. We didn’t use needles and syringes. We used eye droppers and fastened a baby sucker on the end of the dropper. On the other end, we’d wrap string around the narrow part and stick a Yale Point, size 26, onto the other end of the dropper.

Most of the time, we only had one set of works to share among three to five people, and I remember always having arguments about who was going to go first. We’d pass the gimmick around the table with a glass of water in front of each one of us.

When you go for a blood test, the technician swabs your skin with alcohol before she sticks the needle in. The purpose of this is because our skin is covered with bacteria that don’t belong in our bloodstream, and when you just stick the needle in without swabbing your skin first, the needle pushes the bacteria right into the vein.

This is why people get Endocarditus, an inflammation of the heart lining, which can be fatal. Just recently, a close friend of mine died from it. He was 65 and was at the point where he only used occasionally, but it still doesn’t matter. The older we get, the more susceptible we are to bacterial infection.

The last time I shot up was sometime around 15 years ago, which means I was around 56 years old. Now I’m 71, and because of all the damage I’ve done to myself injecting various poisons into my veins, anything could be going wrong with my circulatory system.

The disease of addiction thinks for itself. When I feel like shooting dope, it’s like a 19-year-old person wanting to use. But I’m not 19 anymore.

When you consider my past, I’m lucky to be alive. So, even though I hate going to the doctor, I went in and had an electrocardiogram and a set of lung X-rays. The last time I had lung X-rays was in 1989 when I went to the emergency room of a hospital in Georgia to get Tussionex because I had a severe case of bronchitis. Doctors eventually said I had “chronic bronchitis.”

I used the bronchitis to get narcotics from various doctors. I traveled from place to place and went to hospitals and doctors with my lungs racked from smoking so much, and, because I was middle-aged and well spoken, I would usually succeed in scoring the narcotics.

So that’s another type of poison that I flooded my body with. But most of the time I shot heroin. I actually belong to the millionaire’s club, meaning my poor old body has ingested over a million dollars worth of drugs. I’m lucky I have good genes; otherwise I’d be dead.

So, on Tuesday, Jan. 10 of this year, I had the electrocardiogram and the lung X-ray. I haven’t heard back yet from the doctor so I don’t imagine things are critical, but I did learn I have a heart murmur.

I still have that funny feeling in my chest, and I’m not sure what it is. It could be a panic attack, which I have regularly. I’m at the stage where I’m not ready to die because my life has never been better. I have a wife, Mary Esther, who treats me like a king, and I enjoy my life more than I ever did when I was using drugs.

It seems like when I was using, things always went wrong. I can’t count the times I had the handcuffs put on me. I’ve been arrested for drugs and drug-related offenses so many times that I should be doing life without parole, but, again, I was lucky. I’ve done a few years behind bars, but considering my police record, a few years is a drop in the bucket. Even though, when I was in steel and stone, each day felt like a month.

I’ve since been abstinent, with the help of support groups, my therapist and Suboxone, which is a psychiatric drug for people diagnosed as chronic relapsers. My life has been great. But then there’s that feeling in my chest. I don’t know when my time is coming, but I thank whatever Higher Power there is for each extra day when I wake up in the morning.

I don’t recommend doing drugs to anyone. If you’ve never done drugs, don’t start. If you’re using, take steps to stop. There is help available today. It’s not like when I was young.

My disease of addiction thinks I’m 19, but I’m really 71. I’m lucky to be here, and I hope to stick around for a while.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

Related posts