Something under the surface?
by Ned Wicker
By her appearance, Brittany was typical of any 15 year-old high school student. She had been hospitalized for a broken ankle, requiring surgery, so there were no apparent alarms going off or nothing to cause anyone concern.
However, the circumstances surrounding her accident were somewhat foggy, as the RN assigned to care for her had her suspicions, as did the charge nurse, who just knew something was under the surface.
As it turned out, Brittany had been using drugs and the reason behind her broken ankle was directly related to her drug use, causing impaired motor function and judgment. She had been smoking crack cocaine.
Parents had no clue!
Here’s the rub. Because Brittany looked like a typical high school sophomore, and because on the surface she acted like one, her parents had no clue what was going on. Her grades were fine. About the only change in her routine daily activities was that she opted to not go out for volleyball, which she had enjoyed playing the year before.
There were no dramatics attached to the decision and little, if any, discussion about it. If she didn’t want to play, that was fine with her parents. Her father travelled a lot during the week and her mother was busy with a real estate business, so there was never much family time anyway. One Friday night, Brittany was at a party and began hanging out with classmates who introduced her to crack. The temptation to join in and take the pipe was overwhelming, so Brittany took her first hit. She thought the high was amazing and whatever troubles there might have been in her life, for a brief moment, all was well and she felt wonderful.
The trouble was, once she came down it was like falling out of a tree. She, like millions of others, wanted to maintain that feeling. She sought to repeat the experience, knowing that something didn’t feel right about it. Still, that feeling was intense.
Classic Symptom… She lost interest in EVERYTHING.
As the weeks and months wore on, Brittany had little interest in the usual social things, such as sports events, school dances and hanging out with her friends. She was starting to isolate herself, but she managed to maintain a good grade point average and her “family” time was as it had always been, just kind of checking in with mom and dad.
Everybody got along, or so it seemed, because she had a lot of freedom and she knew how to say what she needed to say to avoid confrontation and arguments. She knew that her parents would freak if they knew she was doing crack, so she tried to present herself as a “good kid.”
She got together with some of her new “friends” to do crack one night and got very high. She got up to leave the house and stumbled down a flight of stairs, resulting in the broken ankle. One of the bright boys in the group figured that if the EMTs came to the house, somebody would figure out what was going on, so they took her to a nearby park and decided to concoct a story about her trying to hurdle a park bench. They rehearsed it and then they decided to call 911.
The medical team focused on the ankle. Her parents were called and they gave the consent for surgery. Mom and dad were concerned about her having a broken ankle and were gentle and loving.
Mom and Dad the last to know.
The nurse heard the story and didn’t buy it. Mom and dad did, however, so Brittany could breathe a sigh of relief. Several years before, the nurse had a teenage daughter of her own and went through a difficult chapter in their relationship when the girl started using drugs. The nurse talked to her and piece by piece, the story came out. Brittany talked about how the crack made her feel good, but also talked of her fear that mom and dad would not understand.
The nurse could relate, because she had difficulty talking to her own daughter and remembered how she had to learn to listen and allow her daughter to express her feelings. Over several hours the two had a long “mother to daughter” type of chat, but the difficult part was yet to come. The nurse wanted Brittany to come clean on the drug use. It was eventually agreed that she would tell her parents but only if the nurse was there too.
With the nurse gently leading the conversation, Brittany told her parents what really happened and what had been going on in her life. Mom sat stunned. Dad did not take the news well and expressed his disappointment, muttering something about the family reputation.
Parents NOT Listening
Expecting that kind of reaction, Brittany was ready to scream at her parents, but the nurse intervened. She shared her own story briefly and tried to facilitate discussion, setting some ground rules. Everybody was invited to speak and share feelings. It was clear that her parents were clueless and had no idea what their daughter needed, was feeling, or no idea how to best approach the situation moving forward.
During the conversation Brittany told her parents that she didn’t tell them anything because “you won’t listen anyway.” She felt isolated and estranged from her own family, because both mom and dad were busy, professional people.
Dad couldn’t understand how or why she would do crack cocaine, because that’s what “junkies and street people do.” Mom just kept sobbing and repeating, “I never knew…” Even with all of the cards laid on the table, mom and dad still didn’t see it. The nurse talked about treatment and offered to make a referral to a counselor. It was agreed that Brittany would receive treatment and that mom and dad would also receive counseling.
Brittany was lucky. She broke her ankle and had a nurse who was paying attention. That is not always the case. So many people will overdose, or if there is a medical complication of some kind, will not receive treatment. So many teens have parents who aren’t watching, don’t know the signs and can’t handle the necessary discussions.
The reality is there are many girls just like Brittany, girls who are peaches and cream on the outside and very troubled on the inside. Left unchecked their addiction leads to serious health issues, criminal activity and a dead end street. Moms and dads need to be aware that their sons and daughters are not exempt. This can happen to anybody on today’s society.