18 – That’s handy (Part 1)

How do you measure the use of your hand
Its ability to help you live out the plan
try going without one, just for a day
Tie it up, out of the way
Or worse still restrict its use
By some form or other of drug abuse
See how much you depend on is use
When part of it is yesterday’s news

Earl Street, Scotstoun. A portacabin on a residential, tenement-lined street; one side houses wrapped in scaffolding being modernised – the other fully revealed and lights flickering and flashing with the lives being lived inside.

Earl Street

Me? Why am I here? Well, it is back to my days as a building site security guard. I had been long term on this sitefor quite a while. I knew most of the residents of the street; they knew the me I allowed them to know. The one that was the polite and conscientious security guard, not just minding the building work and materials, but also policing their street. Nothing happened on my watch.

Monday to Thursday I was on site from 4pm for my 4.30 start. There until 8.30 each morning, the first of the workers arriving from 8am. Friday it was a 3.30pm start, and I was normally on site til Monday 8.30am. This particular day was a Thursday. Here I was on site, me and my holdall – travelling companions.

The contents of my holdall absolutely necessary to allow me to live out this life I know found myself chained to.

There was, of course, the packed lunch. Since I was night shift though it was more of packed snacks, normally curry Pot Noodles and Weetabix.

There was the wee portable tv – requisite for any building site security guard worth his salt. It was almost part of the uniform.

There was the usual assortment of books, I liked to read. In amongst those books was the wee blue bible my granny Patterson had given me years before. Opened only to scrawl a drug fused inscription on the cover calling out my undying love for it; but never read further than the contents page, at least in those days.

Then there were my essentials. My works. This consisted of my 1ml syringe, my Abdine, my spoon and filters. It also contained a small bag with whatever drugs I had secured to see me through the night.

This night it had heroin, hash and a couple of temazepam.

I had some friends on the street. There were K and his wife on the first close down. I got on really well with them. Family on top flat facing K and A and a few others dotted about. K knew more of my real story though than any of the others. Anytime I never had enough hash for a joint, K would give me some. I liked K he was a good mate.

This night, however, K was away for a holiday with HMP. I was alone in the cabin and it was a bright summer’s night. I had taken my heroin, the site was quiet and so I fancied a sleep.

Temazepam capsules

This was why I brought the Temazepam. It was a tablet, that in the normal world, was prescribed to help with sleep. In our world, it had ridiculous effects. For those of us that chose to inject, we had to manipulate and prepare it. Wyeth, the company that made it, was constantly in a battle of will with addicts that came up with ways to abuse their gold mine. In the early days, just like a hen’s egg you could pierce it with a needle and empty its contents. Now we had to empty its contents onto a spoon, heat it, pour it into the syringe and inject before it returned to its very thick gel-like formula. I was an expert in all our areas of our craft, and, despite my rapidly diminishing circulation, administering this to myself was never, normally an issue.

This night, as usual, I injected into my left arm, into the median cubital vein, just below my bicep at the joint of my arm.

I got the usual rush from it. Everything felt normal. (please understand my use of normal here as I describe drug misuse, this was my normal).

It was only as the night progressed that I was aware of increasing pain in my hand and wrist area.

“Sierra 32 call in please!” crackled my two-way radio, as I sat staring at my hand and wondering what was going on.

“Sierra 32, all in order,” I replied. Although I felt anything but. It was not unusual in these days of diminishing circulation for there to be some discomfort and pain after a fix.

“I know,” I thought, “I’ll go and do a patrol and grab a quick sleep, that’ll sort it.” Sometimes a quick nap could do away with the negative side effects of some of the drugs.

I wandered up and down my portion of Earl Street, checking scaffolding, doors, windows and plant machinery. All was in order.

Temazepam had the amazing ability to let you think you were straight and rationale, while all the while anyone that met you knew that you were out of your head.

As I went to step back into the hut, keenly aware of the increasing pain in my left hand, I was stopped by a local. “Stuart can you just check the backs, thought I heard someone there.”

“Of course,” I mumbled and then went into a drug/pain fuzed waffle. I thought I was coherent, but the strange look and quick departure of the local probably said otherwise.

I went to the backcourt, and there was indeed some activity. Some young guys had been on the cycle path, that ran along the old railway track running parallel to the south of the street. They were up at the doo cabin there. Drinking. There was no reason for them to be in the backcourt, but the sight of me and my torch was enough to make them scarper.

Unfortunately for me, it meant I couldn’t sleep. To drunken youngsters, a security hut on the street was like a magnet. I knew the potential for them to come back and try and cause hassle. I had to fight the effects of the Temazepam and the desire to sleep. I had to try and ignore the still increasing pain in my left hand, and I had to watch.

Not mentioned earlier, but one of the first actions of a security guard in a well-windowed, well-lit portacabin on a public street, is to try and cover up the windows. For me, obviously, this had a double purpose as it meant I could get high without the whole street seeing it. Normally this would be newspapers and coats.

Down they all had to come so I could see all sides.

Around 1am, it had remained quiet, but I was keenly aware that my painful left hand was now becoming very discoloured. A sort of reddish-pink yellow hue coming over it.

I was a bit worried. But there had been times before when this happened after a fix.

I kept going.

By 6.30am, my hand was black. The pain. Imagine the worst possible toothache pain, except in every bit of your hand. It was that bad.

“Sierra 32 to Control”

“Go ahead Sierra 32”

“Control I hurt my hand earlier on the site (well I wasn’t going to tell them it was an injection) it’s really bad.”

“Sierra 32, be advised, Supervisor is very busy just now doing site pickups, you will have to wait.”

“Control, I need Mick (the supervisor) to come now. You also need to cover the site”.

“Sierra 32, can’t do it, you have to wait.”

“Control I need Mick to take me to hospital, a guard on site in 20minutes, or I will need to get a bus”

“Control to Supervisor, Mick channel 2.” (this meant Tam on control wanted to speak to Mick on a channel the guards could not listen in on.

“Control to Sierra 32, Supervisor will be with you in 20 minutes” crackled the radio seconds later.

I was a good guard, I did not cause much hassle, so they knew I wasn’t at it. But to be fair to them, it was still a highly unusual request.

Despite the severe pain, I prepared for my hospital visit. I knew my mum would probably have to come up, and if I was kept in (obviously by now I knew this was really bad). Any drug paraphernalia had to go. All my syringes etc were put in a bag, mixed with other rubbish, put in another bag and then put in the skip on the street. I know it was not very safe and fair for anyone that may have to handle the rubbish and I offer no excuse for that.I was in damage limitation mode and I knew my mum would go through my bag forensically.

Mick picked me up, said nothing whilst the replacement guard was there (one that had finished earlier on another site and would have been heading home).

In the car, he asked me what I had done.

I got on really well with Mick. “I fell asleep lying on it, and woke up with it like this.” I do not think for one minute he bought that, but he never questioned it.

Glasgow Royal Infirmary with the old A&E in front.

We arrived at Glasgow Royal Infirmary Accident and Emergency (it was the old entrance at that time) and Mick left me at the door.

I went up to the armour-plated reception window. Gave my name and mumbled very quietly in the mayhem of the Friday morning crowd what had really happened. It was 7.30 am and the place was packed.

“What did you say you did?”

“I had an injection and I think I have really damaged it.”.

“Sit down over there, someone will be with you shortly.”

“I’m in a lot of pain” and I was, by this time I was weeping with the pain. My hand was a very greyish black.

I waited for ages before I was called into a cubicle. A doctor had a look, asked me to describe what I had done, what drug I had taken.

Very quickly I was told I had to go up to a ward.

Still no pain relief!

Eventually, I was taken up to a reception ward in the old buildings. I remember that that was also very busy. I had to sit on a seat whilst my be was made ready. I was in absolute agony, and I remember asking a nurse if I could go and have a cigarette, believing this might bring at least a little relief.

“If you have a cigarette, you are getting no analgesic!” she said in the most condescending voice I think I have ever heard.

“What’s an analgesic,” I asked.

“Your painkiller!”

That did it. I passively sat still, slave to the pain and the hospital procedures. Able to do nothing except concentrate on the extreme pain in my left hand. Hoping that they would call me soon to relieve my pain.

It was nearly lunchtime before I was finally put in a bed. And still, sometime before I finally got medication.

The nurse asked, “Where do you want your injection, stomach or thigh?”

Eh, why did it matter? I wondered.

“In my thigh, what is it?”


Talk about split emotions. A drug addict’s dream, free morphine. But because it was the only painkiller strong enough to alleviate my pain. A measure of how bad my hand was.

Almost instantly I felt the relief crawl through my vascular system.

As I looked down at my hand through a drug-fuelled haze, this time legally given, I could not believe how bad it looked. My hand was almost black.

The doctor came along and described to me what had happened. My temazepam injection had started solidifying again in the veins in my hand. He expressed that a split second was the difference between my hand and my brain. He said that, too all intents and purposes my hand was not receiving any blood and was, in fact, dying. All they could do was fill me with morphine, a lot of morphine, and regularly. Every two hours. It sounded great. All they could do for my hand was put it in a sling and suspend it from an IV drip stand in the hope that the circulation could repair itself.

My hand was hung up on an IV drip stand. How ironic!

I fell asleep, to be woken very soon by mum at my bedside, with my sister Yvonne at her side.

“Look at your hand, what have you done?” she cried.

(to be continued…)

This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

If you would like to know more about the Christian response to addiction, or just need hope please click on one of the links below.

The Haven
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Street Connect
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church
Stuart Patterson