I’ve been to a lot of funerals since I started work in Kings Cross nearly two decades ago. For many doctors it would be rare to attend a patient’s funeral. Indeed, it could even feel a little odd or inappropriate.
But where I work now it isn’t. The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre is a unique place that genuinely meets people where they need it and walks beside them in an effort to help. Sometimes we are all the family a client has.
When the Uniting MSIC opened 15 years ago it was a first in the Southern Hemisphere. Kings Cross was in crisis, and the community knew something needed to be done differently. After it opened, the number of ambulance call-outs to the Cross fell by 80 per cent and the number of discarded needles in the street halved.
But working here these last eight years, I see the people behind the statistics.
Scott* comes to Uniting MSIC and used to be addicted to heroin as well as alcohol. The first time I met him he was severely intoxicated, with major health problems – he had hepatitis C and along with his alcoholism, and so his liver was on track to kill him.
That first day, he was so unwell we had to call an ambulance. Eventually, we convinced him to get his liver scanned. His score was nearly off the scale. It was a huge wake up call.
The last time I saw Scott he had come a long way. Today, not only has he stopped drinking, he is also getting treatment for his Hep C. It is amazing we can now cure Hep C. Scott still uses opiates occasionally, but he has changed dramatically. Most importantly to me, his life is no longer in danger.
Of course, it’s wonderful when we can help someone stop using drugs completely. But that’s not the only way to change someone’s life, and it’s not the only measure of success.
Another member of the Uniting MSIC family is Mike*, a long-term heroin user, who was homeless and had untreated epilepsy when he first came to us. He was having seizures almost weekly, and attempts to get him into stable housing always failed.
We eventually discovered that he didn’t want stable housing. He was afraid of having a seizure alone. He was frightened of his own mortality. And on the streets, he took solace in the fact that at least someone would see him and call for help.
It took a while, but we were able to get him onto medication to manage his fits and see a specialist. When his epilepsy was under control -- for the first time in nearly a decade -- we were finally able to secure him stable housing.