Walk Down Misery Street

I describe the toxicology test in more detail later on. Such an unusual adventure, it deserves a chapter of its own. In the meantime, I will tell of how this took place in the clinic and why the phrase “Let’s go to take your urine, sir” permeated my dreams.

A patient in the restroom hands a cup of his urine to the counselor. The counselor dips in a white plastic stick with an indicator scale for different drugs. If the urine is “dirty,” after a minute or two a red stripe appears across from the name of the specific drug. Will it be positive or negative? Clean or dirty?

On this thin red stripe depends . . . oh, how much depends on this line, you cannot even imagine. One’s whole future depends on it. Tomorrow. No, even today!

The clinic rules are very strict. A “dirty” patient will be thrown out of the sober house immediately. He certainly has nowhere else to live but a filthy shelter or on the street. The counselor from our clinic calls the parole or probation officers to let them know that the patient was using, and then the patient is threatened with prison as a result.

What shocked me, however, was not that prison does not stop them or that their drug use contradicts their philosophical speeches on the benefits of sobriety. I was struck most by how practically all of them assured me—and one another—that they were clean. Without batting an eyelash or flinching a facial muscle, they would say:

“Yes, doctor. I already forgot how to snort goddamn coke. I don’t even want to remember this!”

Then we’d walk to the restroom and . . .

The first time I didn’t believe my eyes. Why was there a red line?

“Sir, you have a positive result for cocaine.”

“Really, doc? Impossible!”

I would take a new test stick and again dip it into the cup. Maybe there had been a technical error? Perhaps it was a bad test stick?

The patient stood by and watched pensively as another red stripe slowly appeared.

I raised my brows.