Thursday, March 10, 2005

The way it is

This is a story I heard today. All names are changed. The event is as true as you can be sure anything is. I've seen the blood test results, the rest is authoritative hearsay.

The guy who tells the story is the doctor who used to go out to the prisons around Melbourne, places like Ararat, Bendigo, Fulham,Tarrengower, back in the eighties.

What he said was a while back there was a shipment of heroin that came in to one of the medium security prisons, early September. It happens all the time, nothing anyone can do to stop it, people who know they'll be staying a few months can bring their own. It’s suprising how capacious some body cavities can be.

It was a fair sized shipment and those involved get together to divvy it up, and they’ve got whole set up laid out, and then this guy, Jacobsen, wants in.
(This guy Jacobsen was the patient the doctor who told the story ended up seeing, the one who told him the original story. A skinny red-headed guy, tall but skinny, with home-grown tattoos of improbably proportioned women).

Jacobsen was due to get out in a few days and he wanted some pretty badly.

“Come on, you guys” he says, “I’m hanging out, just a taste.”

Now Jacobsen had been in on these deals in the past, but he hadn’t had the cash for this one.

“What’ve you got?” said the smuggler, a big Maori guy with those facial tattoos. He was talking about money, equipment, anything. The thing was, him and Jacobsen hated each other, they’d met before. He knew Jacobsen would be good for the cash down the line, and he knew Jacobsen knew he knew, but he also knew Jacobsen didn’t have any money now.

“Pay you Friday, I promise. On my mother’s grave.” said Jacobsen, and the Maori guy laughed, and no matter how Jacobsen begged and wheedled and what he said he’d do, he couldn’t get in.

They passed the fit sat around and hit up and then the Maori guy held the spoon over the flame and burnt it clean, so Jacobsen couldn’t even get the dregs, and he laughed some more. Not one of those people who mellow out on drugs, apparently. And that was the end of that.

Well, it would have been, except for a few years later when the guy telling the story put
all this together, because he was working for infectious diseases, and they were trying to pin down the origin of a nasty little nucleus of what was begining to be known as Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It turned out the Maori guy, who’d brought it in and so had first hit, had HIV. Never knew, of course, hardly anyone knew back then. And now so did everyone else in the circle. They hadn't shared needles, they'd got it off the spoon.

So they tracked down the HIV infected prisoners, most of whom were still or already back inside, including the Maori guy. And there wasn't much they could tell him about the other people, confidentiality and all that stuff, but the guy telling the story reckoned it was "remarkable" that the one guy this Maori guy hated more than anyone was the guy who’d life he’d saved, and the people who’d scratched together their cash and promised shares of this and inside knowledge of that, they’d paid and begged and bargained to die.

Now isn't that ironic. Don't you think.*

There is presumably a moral in that, and presumably you get to choose the one that confirms your preexisting prejudices. There's the basic one about sharing needles and spoons and so on with tattooed guys in prison. But the one that sticks in my mind is the image of the watershed.

You know those diagrammes you did in primary school on the water cycle, how a drop of water
falls from the sky and lands and trickles down the hill and ends up in a river and then the sea, maybe thousands of miles away?

Well, if two drops of rain land on opposite sides of a ridge or a mountain or something, they end up in different places, because they fell in differnt watersheds. They fall a few metres apart but one ends up in the Southern Ocean, another might end up drying out in the desert.

Huge differences, because of one tiny event. The road not taken, the bus missed, the wrong number dialed or the word mis-spelt. Adenosine thiamine guanine cytosine. A protein folded wrong, something your dad forgot to say, the extra step you didn't take. The needle that passed you by.

I shouldn't write these at the end of a long day, my sucrose detector isn't working. Anyway, thing I'm trying to say is that I reckon a lot of what we're proud of in ourselves is fortunate accidents that happened to us, and a lot of what we despise in other people is just what happened when the dice rolled different, came up with different numbers.

Anyway, enough meandering. I still reckon it's a remarkable story.

Maybe next blog is "Bad Doctors".


*That woman didn't know the difference between "ironic" and "a pissoff". Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife isn't ironic, it's a pissoff.


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