By Ed Staskus
Steve De Luca’s cousin Clint had been an addict, gone through rehab, and everything seemed to be all right, until the night he decided to stick a needle into his arm again. The problem with smack is junkies think, since they’ve been clean, they can go back to using the same amount of it they had been using before. It tastes just like honey, except when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t it is trouble.
It becomes the hard stuff.
He wasn’t thinking straight. He went into the bathroom, sat down on the American Standard toilet, and stuck a needle in his arm like before. He was thinking less a few minutes later. The junk smacked him upside the head. He went down and out. The next morning his roommate awoke and found Clint curled up like a baby on the bathroom floor. He had been lying there all night, it turns out, on goose bump tile in the dark. It had been a long icy Lake Erie winter night.
“Clint, my man, get up, I have to go pee,” the roommate said.
When Clint didn’t move, the roommate, being the sleepy head that he was, went back to bed for an hour. When he woke up again Clint was still in the bathroom, still stone cold. Did he call an ambulance? No. Did he call the police? No. He called his girlfriend. She was almost out the door on her way to work.
“What is it?” she asked, annoyed.
“Hey, Clint’s on the floor of the bathroom and I need to get in there to wash up and stuff. I need to get to the grocery store. I’m out of coffee.”
“Who is this genius?” Maggie Campbell asked her husband.
“Boy wonder, disaster,” Steve said.
When Maggie and Steve got married at the turn of the century Maggie kept her name and Steve kept his name. Steve came from Italian blood. Maggie came from Scottish blood. He had the oily hair and dark skin to prove it. She had the pale freckled skin to prove it. “There is no sense in trying to make you a Dago,” Steve said.
The girlfriend rushed over to the drug den. While she was on the way she called the cops and Clint’s mom. She was thinking and reckoning. She knew Clint’s bad habits. EMS rushed him to the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic in Fairview Park, where the roommate and Clint’s mom were told the bad news.
“Here’s what is going on. This kid is not in good shape. He’s overdosed on heroin, his kidneys have shut down, and he’s got compartment syndrome. His whole body is shutting down. Before we can work on the kidneys, before we can work on the syndrome, before we can work on anything, he’s got to pull through the heroin overdose. He’s got to come through that first.”
After forty-eight hours he was still alive, even though he had chased the dragon and lost. Nobody could believe it. It was like a miracle.
The deadness is what happens when oxygen gets cut off to the muscles in the body. That’s what happened to Clint. It’s the same thing that happens when you fall asleep on your arm in the middle of the night and wake up with it numb and tingling.
You shake it off. It’s no big deal. You get up and have breakfast.
But Clint had been lying on his face, arms and legs crushed beneath him, when he crumpled to the bathroom floor the night before. It was a big deal. He’d been unconscious for ten hours, circulation, and oxygen, everything, cut off. Everything fell into the big sleep. Then his muscles started dying, dying all night.
In the hospital they slit his hands open at the palms and slit his hands open at the back. The doctors slit his arms all the way up on both sides and slit his legs down the middle. They manipulated his muscles to get them to start coming back to life.
He was wide open, machines circulating his blood. They did nineteen surgeries over three months. They saved his arms, but both of his legs were gone. They had to be amputated. His leg on the left side was gone above the knee and his leg on the right side was gone below the knee. The Cleveland Clinic couldn’t bring the muscles back for anything. He lost taking a lazy walk to the corner store for smokes for good.
His spoonful of fun had gone glum woebegone.
They didn’t tell him they cut his legs off until he was almost done with all the surgeries and out of the recovery room because they needed him to fight and keep going. They didn’t need him down in the dumps. He was almost ready to leave his hospital room for rehab when they talked to him.
“We have to tell you something,” they said.
“Is it bad news?” he asked.
“Yes,” they said.
“All right, man, give it to me straight.”
After he got home, he got a small, motorized wheelchair that he rambled around in. He couldn’t use prosthetics because the muscles in his upper thighs were ruined. They had to take some of them out because they were dying. If they had left them in, that might have made the other muscles die, too.
The doctors had to take all the muscles that had the syndrome in them out of his legs. He had no strength in his upper leg muscles to support prosthetics, so he was going to be in his wheelchair until he went blue in the face. He was thirty-two years old. His fingers were locked up. They were almost like claws. When he talked and tried to gesture, he couldn’t unclench them.
Clint took antibiotics anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain killers religiously for months. When his therapist’s care was over and done, he went cold turkey. If you can’t swim, you’re not saddled up. You’re only learning how to drown. He asked Maggie and Steve for a pet to keep him company. All his friends and dopehead pals had dropped him like a hot potato. His roommate had long since disappeared. Nobody wanted reminders of bad times.
“I need a friend,” he said. “I need one bad. I don’t got nobody.”
The friend they found for him was a puppy mill dog, a Parti Yorkie. They got her from a rescuer who put her up on Facebook. They didn’t even know what kind of dog she was. They thought she was a Maltipoo, but she was really a Parti dog. She was a kind of new-style designer dog.
Steve and Maggie jumped the rescue by telling Facebook they had a desirable home for the dog. It was only partly a lie. The rest of it was a white lie. Facebook doesn’t know the difference between bona fide and groundless, anyway, no matter how pious the social site pretends to be. They took the dog, not knowing for sure if Clint would go for it. She was under seven pounds, not a family-sized Yorkie. Steve carried her around with him in his bathrobe pocket. That was a mistake, carrying her around, because Steve then started wanting to keep the dog. They cleaned her up before giving her to the lonely ex-junkie.
When they delivered the Yorkie to Clint’s apartment Steve told him if it didn’t work out it would be OK, and he would take the dog back. But Clint had nothing to do except sit in his wheelchair and dote on the dog. And the dog was the kind that needed nothing but being doted on. They were two peas in a pod.
“I love this dog, man, and she loves me,” Clint said. “I am going to call her Honey. I’m keeping her, for sure.”
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”