Raju was painfully thin, almost a skeleton…His eyes were sunken, ferret like, furtively darting glances around him. He was the first junkie I had the misfortune to treat. In the seventies and eighties of India hard drugs had just made their presence felt. Young men were no more satisfied with the weed, graduating to heroin and other hard stuff. If nothing was available, diazepam would do. The weed was quite common with the residents. Bhang or opium was taken during the holy festival. But the menace of hard drugs had insidiously made its entry into the residents’ quarters. Just the last month an Anaesthesia house surgeon was rusticated for pilfering Ketamine.
Like all junkies, Raju would be very innovative to get his fix.. He was the only son of an affluent Agarwal family who had kicked him out of his home when he started stealing things at home for his daily fix. He had been expelled from his engineering college for doing drugs. He was living with his other junky friends in a single room hovel in Dharavi. One day, he had got hold of some diazepam tablets, crushed them, dissolved them in water and in a flash of innovation injected the deadly concoction into his femoral artery. The particles of the drug that had not dissolved completely had blocked off his artery leading to near gangrene.
Prof Vilas and I had done an arteriotomy, passed a Fogarty catheter and removed as much of the gunk from his artery as possible. Fortunately for Raju, his circulation had recovered. The problem was his need for a fix. He would, everyday skulk around the ‘controlled’ drugs cupboard in the hope that one day a careless nurse would forget to lock it. He knew that precious morphine and pethidine were inside the green “Godrej” cupboard. It was a veritable treasure trove for a Junkie.
“If I see you anywhere near the cupboard, I will tie you down to your cot. You can lie in your own urine and stools” This was Sister G.Eapen, the In Charge nurse. She was a formidable woman, was G Eapen. None of knew her maiden name. Rumor had it that her first name was Georgina..”Old Pete and she were like this” Tatya Joshi had told me holding up two fingers of his right hand close together. Rumor also had it that she was married, had one son and that her husband was dead….”Who would survive her?” was the general opinion…
There was a silent battle every day between Raju and Eapen….Raju would find new methods to irritate her..By hiding her glasses, pen or her precious daily order book….He also tried every trick to get into her good books….”You are like my mother” he whined one day…”You shouldn’t shout at me….”
“You wretch! don’t ever try to to call me your mother….I have seen what you have done to her”…His mother had been spotted in the ward sporting a black eye courtesy Raju who wanted her to give him some money for his fix….Raju cowered in his bed….
Though she seemed to detest him, she was the one who would be at his side during his worst “willies” when he sweated buckets, raved deliriously and sneezed uncontrollably….
Gradually Raju was on the mend…His withdrawal symptoms had become less severe and he had stopped planning the heist of morphine…His leg was coming along nicely…He was discharged…He attended counseling sessions at the newly established De-addiction center.. His looks improved dramatically…..Sister Eapen looked on approvingly…..
Six months later, I entered the ward for the morning round….Sister Eapen was nowhere to be seen, something unusual…Her second in command looked upset and teary eyed…The other nurses looked grim but distracted….”Where is the Sister?” I asked….In her office, was the reply…She was very upset….What happened? I inquired..Raju, our junkie had been brought in DOA, i.e, dead on arrival…He had O.D.ed himself…..
I walked into her office….She was sitting bolt upright in her chair, stony faced….The agony on her face broke my heart…I sat opposite her…Did not know how to comfort her…Suddenly her face crumbled….”Why do these young people play with their lives Doctor?”She asked plaintively….I stammered something and quickly left..
“Why is she so cut up about a Junkie?” I asked Rosamma, her second in command….”You don’t know Doctor?” She asked…”Know what?”…”Her teenage son was also an addict…He too died of an overdose five years ago”