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Patient Stories | Victor S.

Victor is a lover of his family, his drums, and the Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem, NY. 3-years ago, Victor came to the Living Room/Safe Haven Shelter in the Bronx, looking to put an end to his 25-year heroin addiction. Since then, he has been drug free.

Music is Victor’s life. He’s partial to jazz, jump blues, R&B, and classic soul, but is up for any style as long as he can play the drums. As a successful freelancer, Victor has shared his talents with a number of different groups at a number of different venues. However, for the past three years, he’s played consistently at the famous Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem, NY.Coincidentally, it was also three years ago that Victor first visited Care For the Homeless’ (CFH) Health Center at the Living Room/Safe Haven Shelter in the Bronx, NY.

It Started Out as Fun

“I was on heroin for 25-years before I came to the Living Room,” said Victor. “Since then I’ve been on Suboxone, which I take three times a day.”

Victor’s condition began all those years ago while he was out on tour. He recalled, “It was the 80s and I was on tour with a major artist at the time. Whether we were all just hanging out or travelling on the tour bus, there were always drugs around. Crack-cocaine, heroin, and a bunch of others were easily accessible.”

“It started out as fun,” Victor continued, “just something to do with friends, and then it turned into a big monster. It became a part of me, a part of my everyday life.”

As his condition ramped up in severity, Victor took note of how it affected his music career, commenting, “It made it so that every time I went on tour, I would have to have some heroin. So, I took a lot of risks just to make sure I wouldn’t get sick while I was out playing.”

“And I was always a functioning addict,” Victor continued. “Most addicts start out that way. It’s their income that determines whether they stay functioning or hit that rock bottom. My addiction was easy to deal with because I was making money. There’s a lot of artists out there who do the same thing, and are able to buy what they need, so that they can maintain their lifestyle and perform.”

Time for a Change

Eventually, it came to a point where Victor decided he needed to make a change. “Even though I was functioning, my family and close friends knew. Plus, when you’re on drugs you just want to die. I had become so addicted that it took a lot for me to even get high. I was tired of using just so that I could feel normal, tired of spending money, tired, tired, tired.”

Via a friend’s suggestion, Victor began seeking out suboxone programs. His search eventually brought him to the Living Room/Safe Haven Shelter in the Bronx, NY, where health care is provided by CFH. The Living Room/Safe Haven is an open access, drop-in shelter, meaning all people experiencing homelessness are welcome to come in, spend time off the street, and receive essential services.

“I didn’t find out about suboxone until after I found [the CFH health center at] the Living Room,” he recalled. “I had been on Methadone programs before, but they never worked out. I left one back in 2006 without knowing how severe the consequences would be. I didn’t know about the withdrawals and I went through some very serious pain. I didn’t sleep for a month and ended up going back to using.”

The Living Room

“When I stumbled upon the Living Room they started me on suboxone,” Victor continued. “It curbs your cravings without any of the withdrawal symptoms. At first it was difficult for me. I was still getting high, so I wasn’t really giving it a chance. But, once I started seeing changes, like waking up feeling normal and not having any cravings for heroin, I realized it was something I wanted to do because I’d finally be able to live a normal life.”

And while things haven’t been perfect for Victor, he’s excited about the progress he’s made. “There’s good points and bad points. It hasn’t all been peaches n’ cream,” he commented. “But I get a lot more done now. I have goals and I’m working towards doing things that I wanted to get done 30 years ago. I’m closer to my family, my kids, and my lady. This process has changed a lot for me.”

However tough it may have gotten for Victor during those bad points, he knew he had his providers and loved ones to support him through his journey. “I’ve got a good support system,” he said. “Dr. [Andrea] Littleton, my family, my lady, and Luis Fernandez, CASAC-2 (Certified Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counselor), have all worked hard to help get me to this point.”

A Culture of Cooperation

The collaborative element of Victor’s journey illustrates what sets CFH’s health care model apart. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and all other providers address every aspect of the person they’re working with. The culture of cooperation fostered by CFH providers garners trust, respect, and breaks down barriers that would otherwise prevent people from accessing care.

On this, Victor commented, “If you’re not at a level where you want to be or think you should be, the doctors here will work with you and make sure you get to point where you have stability. I would suggest the services at the Living Room [health center] to anybody that’s going through addiction. And it would do a lot of good in communities if there was increased access to it.”

Looking Forward

As far as the future goes, Victor plans (literally) on following the music. As previously mentioned, he can be found playing shows multiple times a week at the Red Rooster. In addition to his professional pursuits, he also said, “Moving forward, I’m looking into getting a stable home because I’m currently homeless and I’d also like to spend more time with my kids.”

Victor’s case is illustrative of the immeasurable impact social medicine can have. Addressing the whole person and how their culture, socioeconomic background, and political environment affects their health, is built into the delivery of health care services every CFH patient receives, showing them they are validated, supported, and cared for. Thank you for believing in CFH and helping Victor return to and enjoy what he truly loves: his music and his family.

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