Tranq wounds smell bad. That means people who have lesions advanced enough to have a noticeable odor suffer more than just the physical pain of having them, or the emotional reaction to seeing them on one’s body. In warmer weather, they are often on public display without the camouflage of winter clothing. The shock of the injury can be very hard to look at, especially when there’s deep tissue exposure. Kensington and the surrounding area is rough, and not known for being a sensitive, warm place to call home. Gun violence, gang activity, random assaults, daily cruelties leveled at the population of people on the street is the context in which those with tranq wounds exist.
Entering a store with a wound can be more than just a casual act. It’s an ordeal, an event to be endured if someone in the store, customer or employee, decides to verbally attack the person with the wound. If the odor is noticeable, it gets very embarrassing and difficult to make simple purchases, to obtain necessities in the drugstore or food items before getting thrown out. Riding the subway can result in anger and cruelly abusive words, turning a quick ride into an experience of humiliation.
Not everyone is eager to have their wounds dressed, bandaged or otherwise looked after. I’m told that sometimes things get much worse, and more fluid builds up when air cannot reach the skin and tissues. Some people have had ineffective wraps or felt that those trying to care for the wounds don’t really possess the skill to address the situation medically, despite having the best intentions. The lesions are tricky to care for, and require expertise to effectively treat. The real problem is the need to get well….a trip to the hospital means that a person cannot use during time spent in the emergency room. This is huge, and a massive roadblock, insurmountable for most. Additionally, hospital nurses and doctors can display insensitivity and create more stress, as well as not practice addiction management techniques. With all of this on his mind, Mike’s contemplation of a trip to get desperately needed care resulted in dismissal of the option. Even the fear of sepsis wasn’t enough to propel Mike into the hospital on this overcast Saturday afternoon.
Whose fault is the wound? Assigning blame is irrelevant. The cause, Xylazine, is in the drug supply. The cessation of use is not an option for most…no amount of straight, factual talk with the most heartfelt delivery will change the trajectory of someone else’s life. Just listening is sometimes proactive, even though it feels totally insufficient. I’m recording my observations and what other people relate to me about their experience. The complexities of addiction and choice and self determination aren’t part of my work. The obvious penalties of addiction unfortunately in these situations often include being the subject of ridicule or recklessly insensitive behavior. People in this intractable addiction trap on the street in Kensington often depend on the help they receive from strangers, strangers who sometimes become familiar and dependable, and strangers who appear only once to give a quick gift. Outreach personnel, private individuals who show up in the neighborhood with food, well intentioned church groups, or an empathetic troupe of friends who get together and head to Kensington to give out cups of coffee, or a few cookies with hot chocolate on a brutally cold day.