By Michael Zimmer
I am writing this as I am setting up a fund raiser to for my granddaughter, now in high school. I am filling in, partly because the person who we would expect to be there to help and enjoy this part of being a parent, can’t.
Writing this and setting up this fundraiser is one of the hardest things I have had to do in the last decade and it should be something I relish and enjoy – after all I create and participate in so many fund raisers for so many other people and causes.
I am a recovering family member of someone who died from legal prescription drugs and in my opinion the real victims are those who survived the death of someone who was killed by addictive medications for chronic illness.
I never took a pill, yet I am always in recovery from the Opioid epidemic, now 11 years since opioids left my life. Here’s my story.
I received the call no parent ever wants to get. It was around 9:30 AM on October 8, 2008. I was working at my desk like any other Wednesday when a strange phone number came up on my mobile phone. I recognized the voice, the words didn’t register at first “Hello Mike, I have some bad news, we lost Mark last night.”
I said “You don’t know where he went?”.
I was thinking he got in a fight with his wife and walked out. Mark’s wife messaged me the night before and said she was having issues with his abusing his medication; he was refusing help and she was going to give him an ultimatum in the morning – seek help or you have to move out. She had packed his bag and left at the top of the stairs. She was letting me know he may be looking to move back home.
The phone call continued and she said “No I am sorry, but he died in his sleep last night in bed. Fire rescue just left we didn’t find him until it was too late. They were unable to revive him.”
Things got very blurry at that point. As a parent you know what to do if your child has a scrapped knee or the flu. But I was completely lost as to what to do to fix this. Oddly, I wasn’t thinking about funeral homes and cemeteries. I was searching my mind for how to fix his condition. Who do I call, what expert can fix this? It is at that moment that you realize for the first time in his life, you don’t have an answer and there is no place to turn for a solution. This is final.
I told my coworkers, still in a shock and left for home. I was pacing around the house, still in disbelief. I didn’t call anyone because somehow, in my shocked state, I was going to find a way to fix this. I was waiting for the call telling me this was just a joke or they made a mistake. I was actually thinking that he would get to the hospital in the ambulance and they would somehow find a solution and he would be fine.
After I paced the house for a while, I called his mother-in-law and said “I don’t know what to do, can I come over there?” Still hadn’t called a sole to tell them. Maybe when I got there something would change, but it never did. The next and last time I would see him was at the funeral home for services.
Mark was an amazing person and a very talented athlete. He had no fear when it came to jumping a berm on his motorcycle or bicycle. He played almost every position in hockey, including being a star goalie. It seemed like he could excel at anything sport related.
Mark had one health problem that kept him from excelling in sports and ultimately in life, he suffered from chronic migraines. Although they were developing new treatments, at the time the treatment plan was highly addictive pain killers. The standard treatment plan was to start with a low dose and continue to increase it as the medicine became less effective in the body. Then when the patient would get to the point of exceeding the recommended dose, they would cut them off or refuse to fill their prescription.
The same medical provider that was getting them hooked and feeding their insatiable habit, like a drug dealer, would then tell them “Sorry I know that helps you, but you are shut off.”
Mark had two stay’s in treatment facilities as an adult, which were designed to restart his addictive treatment plan. After all if you put the person back on the same medications that got them addicted in the first place, knowing full well they would have to continuously be increased to be effective, how could there be anything but a recurring plan of getting someone addicted to the point of non-functioning and then hitting the restart button in a treatment facility.
But all of that is over for Mark; it has been over for years. No more migraines, no more doctors, no more Opioids.
But here I am with pictures and memories. I never complained about getting up pre-dawn to stand in a 30 degree ice rink so Mark could get in practice time on the ice. My only complaint is I couldn’t do it one more time.
Thank goodness, his family has continued. Fortunately, I can still be supportive in his absence, but sometimes, like right now, I must stop and take a breath. In my heart I know he would want to be here doing this fundraiser, but he can’t.
We are the ones who are left behind to pick up the pieces and continue to relive that day and the loss.
The Opioid crisis isn’t over for us and even if they banish the pills and fine the companies responsible, it will never bring us back to whole.
That is why in my view those left behind in this Opioid crisis are just as much the victims.
Rest in Piece Mark 6/1/1983 – 10/8/2008