[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Another positive development in my life, or so it seemed at the time, was Claire introducing me to Abdul Bédard-Lellouche, whom she’d gotten to know through her clients at the peeler’s bar who dealt dope for him. She knew Abdul was always looking for smart men with not much to lose to help him run his business. She told me she knew a guy who might want to hire me to do administrative work, well-paid work, work that paid under the table, even, so I could keep my welfare checks coming. And wouldn’t life be sweet with that much money?
It took a while for Claire to arrange the meeting with Abdul. He wasn’t a successful crook for nothing; he was the king of paranoia, and needed to make absolutely sure I was not an undercover cop. He watched me like a hawk and spent almost two months following me whenever he had a few minutes to spare.
To say I don’t look like a cop would be a funny understatement. I’m tall enough, sure, but that’s about it. I used to be pretty fit in my teens and twenties, but this had all gone by the time the Unpleasant Events happened. Some of my friends moved away, others got married, people didn’t have time to meet and play hockey anymore, and that was that. I kept skating for a while, especially in the summer on roller blades, but eventually that fell by the wayside and my waist began expanding. Now in my early thirties with HIV, I was exactly the opposite of what you think about when you think about a healthy guy.
Abdul wasn’t overly concerned about that. He only wanted to make sure I wasn’t a cop, and that my HIV wasn’t going to turn to AIDS and kill me next year or, worse, incapacitate me and make me unable to work. After shadowing me long enough to be satisfied I was who Claire said I was, we met a few times, and we got to know each other a little better. Think of it as slow dating from the underworld.
He took me out for coffee and lunch a bunch of times. A couple of times we went on long car rides to Saint-Sauveur and back. It’s a rich kids’ paradise, that place. Lots of drug business.
Then one day, maybe two months into our, quote, relationship, Abdul decided he knew me enough to start giving me some details. To open up, as it were. “You see,” he explained, “I’m not thinking anything violent. In fact, I’m thinking something good, positive. You worked in nursing homes. You know many people in there are no longer really alive, right?
“That’s true,” I said. “Many of the nursing home patients I’ve encountered in my short career were not properly alive. Their bodies continued to work, mostly, though without proper control over their most basic operations, and who knows what would happen if they stopped taking all these drugs. For all I know they’d fall down dead within a week. Which, like you say, would be a relief for everyone concerned. The families, who wouldn’t have to continue visiting someone who no longer recognized them and who was obviously holding on by a mostly inhuman thread, the health care system that wouldn’t be so clogged with bed blockers in hospitals, acute care, and sometimes intensive care and could devote more of those valuable resources to helping people who at least might stand a chance to live for a while yet, and the patients themselves, who’d finally be allowed to go rest in peace in heaven or wherever they thought their soul was headed, instead of being kept alive for no good reason, just because medicine could.”
Wow, I’d never had a chance to be so open and honest about these things before, but it was all true.
“I get that allowing many of these folks to just fall asleep and never wake up would often be an act of mercy,” I added, seeing as I was on a rhetorical roll. “And don’t kid yourself; it happens more often than people think, especially in hospitals. It’s not uncommon for doctors to stick a DNR, that’s a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’, on patients with poor recovery prospects if the family hasn’t clearly prohibited it in writing. I’ve seen it happen in my training. Nobody says anything about these cases, because deep down we all understand that someone has to draw the line somewhere. I’m not against helping patients survive pneumonia if they have a good chance of getting most of their lives back. But once someone’s heart gives out, especially someone who has been bed-ridden and mostly senile for years, why would you bring them back to life? To what life, anyway? To the life of a bed-ridden, senile, incontinent and brain-damaged 90-year-old? Makes no sense to me.” I shook my head as I said that. “No sense at all.”
“Yes,” Abdul agreed. “No sense. And I’ll bet you some of those doctors could get in trouble if some busybody discovered they’d taken matters into their own hands. But you know what? At some point someone has to do something. Past a certain point, keeping someone alive just because you can becomes abuse, pure and simple.”
I thought the same thing. “So what are you proposing?”
Abdul took the plunge. “OK. I have this idea. There should be a service for people who are ready to go but who can’t do it because assisted suicide is still illegal. What scares people about suicide is the pain. They don’t want pain. So they need drugs. But drugs are hard to get.”
Yup, all true. Most people who are ready for suicide are no longer able to do it themselves. That’s why they needed help. And that’s also why so many people were in favour of allowing physician-assisted suicide. You can see it in poll after poll after poll. People are thinking about themselves; they’re thinking that one day they’ll be stuck in a bed, unable to take themselves out, and they don’t want it to be illegal to ask a professional for help. People have a deep desire to choose the time and place of their demise after a proper send-off with their family but more importantly, they really care about a clean and painless death. What they want is to be able to take a pill, go to sleep, and not wake up. For sure this sort of assisted suicide isn’t for everyone, and there are a lot of good people who argue against it on grounds that life should be protected no matter what and who are we to play God, but I don’t really give a shit about that. I mean, if you want to control your death and someone is prepared to help you in exchange for money, what exactly is wrong with that?
“So,” I asked Abdul, “what’s your idea, exactly?”
“We offer these patients and their families something the law won’t let them have in the open, a way to put an end to their suffering, without pain.”
“Using what method?”
That was the first time I’d seen Abdul so relaxed. “We use drugs that put people to sleep and they just don’t wake up. No bruises, no signs of violence or struggle or poisoning, nothing to give anyone reason to suspect anything. That’s still technically illegal, so of course we need to be careful about how we give the drugs to people. I’ll explain that later. We don’t want to get caught.”
“What if the laws change?”
He smirked. “We’ll have to find something else to do. But for now this’ll work. You’re a nurse, Jean. You know giving someone a pill to swallow ain’t rocket science.”
Yeah, I snorted at that. No kidding. It was always nurses that did this kind of work. Doctors just prescribed, and mostly worried about looking important.
“OK,” I said. “I’m interested.”
A lot had happened since that conversation, and our operations now spanned the areas of Montreal, the South Shore, Laval, Rosemère, St-Jérôme, Oka, and every now and then we made a call in Repentigny or Sorel. We started out small; maybe one or two interventions in the first six months. But word of mouth quickly did its magic and before we knew it we were very busy indeed.