My Relationship with Sister Morphine | Poison Boy Musings
Contemplating my relationship with sister morphine on a warm Sunday night. Finished a grueling shift in the needle parks of Bristol, PA where the fentanyl flows like Yuengling lager. Came home with just enough time to kiss my wife goodbye as she goes off to do the same in another part of town. Relaxing outside on a warm summer evening listening to the cicadas with a gin and tonic (or two) and a nice cigar, listening to the greatest rock band ever in the history of the world (Rolling Stones, in case you were wondering) and listening to “Sticky Fingers” for the millionth time in my life. Maybe it was the gin, but I started really listening to and analyzing the beautiful, haunting 8th track.
The soundtrack for this blog post.
Here are the lyrics, co-written by Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful with musical arrangement by the bleeding heart of the Stones – Keith Richards. They are haunting in and of themselves but you have to really hear the bluesy back-and-forth guitar arguments between Richards and Mick Taylor (the unsung hero of the greatest creative period in the Stones’ history).
Here I lie in my hospital bed
Tell me, sister Morphine, when are you coming round again?
Oh, I don’t think I can wait that long
Oh, you see that I’m not that strong
The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my ears
Tell me, sister Morphine, how long have I been lying here?
What am I doing in this place?
Why does the doctor have no face?
Oh, I can’t crawl across the floor
Ah, can’t you see, Sister Morphine, I’m trying to score
Well it just goes to show
Things are not what they seem
Please, sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams
Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast?
And that this shot will be my last
Sweet cousin Cocaine, lay your cool cool hand on my head
Ah, come on, sister Morphine, you better make up my bed
‘Cause you know and I know in the morning I’ll be dead
Yeah, and you can sit around, yeah and you can watch all
The clean white sheets stained red
The opium poppy has been humanity’s savior and destroyer for centuries. My own appreciation of the poppy and my relationship with sister morphine came in 2007 when I was struck down with a horrifically painful condition – I began bleeding into my back from a tumor on my kidney – an angiomyolipoma (AML) – a benign, slow-growing tumor that had reached into my left kidney and blown it apart, sending liters of blood pumping into my and turning my urine into the shade of a musty cabernet. I lost about a third of my blood volume and all my strength for 2 months.
I was lucky. Ten or so year earlier, I’d have had no choice but to have a surgeon put my kidney in a bucket and hope to live off the other one – problem is I have another AML on the other kidney, growing slowly like a weird Siamese twin. The interventional radiologist at my hospital, a brilliant, gentle, honest man named Paul Brady decided to try to coil the bleeding tumor and floated a couple of small titanium coils into my kidney – that didn’t work. The next day he tried floating some silicon beads into the bleeding vessel – that worked for about a week, then the bleeding started again. He finally tried choking the blood supply of the tumor by injecting 100% alcohol (alcohol – is there anything it can’t do?) in the hopes that the blood vessels would sclerose and starve the tumor of blood. That worked, but about 8 hours after the procedure, the tumor began to die and it was extremely pissed off that I had killed it. The pain was excruciating – breathtaking in its purity and insistence – and I spiked a fever to 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit. I was at home – my wife was at work – I fell down the stairs and my 11 year old daughter picked me up and carried me up to my bed. I was delirious and I’m sure Mika was terrified.
I took 2 Vicodin tablets that Brady had mercifully prescribed and Rika had filled before going to work for her night shift. I slept like a dead man for 3 hours and when I woke up, there was no pain. None at all. The acetaminophen in the Vicodin had also cured the fever. I felt better than I had in days. The Vicodin gave to me a lovely, warm, safe feeling of comfort.
I loved the feeling that the Vicodin gave me.
I took those two pills that one horrific night. And they saved me. And flushed the other 38 pills down the toilet the next day. My relationship with sister morphine was too precious and too frightening.
Tonight Sister Morphine will have to compete with Uncle Alcohol
Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.