Note: The Clinic Memoirs are based on real experiences from Occupy Medical clinic, a free, integrated health clinic that serves patients primarily, but not exclusively, in Lane County, Oregon since 2011. The names of the patients and a few personal details are changed to protect patient identity.
Lavender: A Clinical Memoir
Gordon was a regular patient at our clinic. He had been homeless for several years and his body was breaking down. We treated his feet for boot rot and managed to save his toes. We treated his kidneys for infection made worse by alcohol poisoning. We treated his hands for wounds caused by fighting. He managed to get a job working for a local landscape company, but it did not make him enough to stay off the streets. His drinking problem was the biggest obstacle to his success.
Gordon was a smart young man. He had an engaging personality that softened its edge since we’d first begun helping him a year ago. Now that he was no longer in chronic pain because of his medical conditions, he smiled and made jokes. We looked forward to seeing him every Sunday … after 2pm.
Before 2pm, Gordon was an unhappy victim of a nasty Sunday morning hangover. His hangovers were extraordinary. He was sick and unhappy until he managed get more alcohol in his system. Gordon’s alcoholism was so advanced he couldn’t physically go for over 6 hours without drinking or he would go into withdrawals. It was life threatening.
Withdrawals sounds like a good thing, but for advanced alcoholics they can be deadly. In detox centers, the staff has to give patients a variety of medication to keep them from going into shock. Gordon frequently went into DT (delirium tremens) as a symptom of withdrawal. His symptoms included shaking, agitation, hallucinations, and confusion. Symptoms this severe can cause fatality if left unchecked.
One Sunday morning, Gordon came to the clinic. He was first in line. He had a wound that needed treating. We brought him into the bus to check his vitals before seeing the doctor. As soon as we checked his blood pressure, Gordon started to descend into DT.
His face was flushed. He was dizzy and nauseous. He began to shake. He was scared. He needed alcohol, which he didn’t have on him or he needed to go to our local medically managed detox center. Either way, he needed help that we couldn’t offer him. The nurse stepped out to expedite the process of getting him appropriate help.
I had dealt with anxiety before with patients and learned to keep a little bottle of lavender essential oil in my pocket. I opened the bottle and put a few drops on my wrists, then placed my hand on Gordon’s shoulder to steady him. Gordon blinked.
“What is that smell?” he asked.
“It is lavender. Do you like it?”
Gordon took a deep breath. “That smells good,” he said.
“I like it too. Do you want some on you?”
Gordan nodded. I put some lavender essential oil on a cotton ball and gave it to him. He wiped it on his jacket and neck then breathed in. Gordon sat up. He looked around him. He took another deep breath.
“That reminds me of something. You had this stuff before, right?”
“Yeah. I like it,” he said.
“I’m glad,” I said, and I truly was.
Gordon was calmer. He wasn’t shaking. His color started to return. The lavender had bought us a little more time before he was transported. We were able to patch up his wound before sending him to get more complex care.
He got through his medical visit and on with his day. Lavender essential oil is not going to replace detox medications, but it is an excellent tool to help patients alongside these meds. I think Gordon would agree. In the months to come, Gordon always asked for “that flower stuff” when he was getting care. After I opened the bottle, he would lean back in his leather jacket, stretch out his feet in his black biker boots and just relax.