Holes: How Many Pills Does it Take?

Fiction by Lisa Taddeo

From the headline

“Doctor Gets 40 Years for Illegally Prescribing More Than Half a Million Opioid Doses”

Read the original story

Doctor K. was not a hot man. But he was fit. He had a hot wife and a significant number of children. This was the kind of thing that either saved you or fucked you. But his present had nothing to do with it.

There’s a story he likes to tell when people ask what made him do it. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t make a difference. Because the point is real. The point of the story is holes.

As a child he’d watched his baby brother drown in a bathtub. His mother had been on some sort of painkiller at the time. She’d been folding laundry. His dad was not a part of the ensuing court case. His dad worked. Dr. K. (then Teddy) watched his baby brother, Leon, gasping. The widest of baby eyes. Teddy tried to call for his mom but his voice was gone. It was only a few seconds later that his mom came in. Or it could have been whole minutes, so the story goes.

Many thousands of years later Teddy was in Pennsylvania. He’d scrubbed the swamp off of himself. He met the hot wife and they fucked sweetly in her childhood bedroom in a house that had no problems. His hot wife liked big SUVs and unscented baby products. He loved her family. He started a brass practice and his in-laws gifted him a placard that said, THE BUCK STOPS HERE. Every day for lunch he did not flirt with the pharmaceutical reps who brought him lukewarm linguine with clams.

He knew he was going to jail at some point. He knew it was 70 percent about the money, about the hot wife. But there was an entire 30 percent—God help him—that did it for the holes the world bore into 40 percent of its citizens.

The first patient who was clearly med-seeking was a woman named Johanna. She was incredibly tremulous—he could smell the brine of the pills on her breath—but also she’d lost her two children in a plane crash. They’d been on their way to see their father who’d left her for an actual sixteen-year-old. Then there was Carly with bone cancer and Charlie with full-blown AIDS and Len with eighteen stents. Maybe nineteen, he didn’t know. And then it trickled down into the well whatevers. Rick the incel and Sarah who’d been ghosted more than fifty times in a year. Housewives with OCD and truck drivers with bad knees. They came from all over. They came from Kentucky and Connecticut and Florida. One came from fucking Munich. Annika only wanted one day of peace, please, she said, one day of fucking peace from the worms in my brain and I will give you one thousand dollars. I will suck your dick, she said. She said it in German and he didn’t get it but he lifted her from her knees and took her one thousand dollars. They arrived after midnight. They sucked on the Werther’s he’d placed in a bowl in the waiting room. They read Car & Driver. They crayoned adult coloring books. You looked through the little window and they were all so fucking happy.

The thing was, Teddy knew he was going to jail at some point. He knew it was 70 percent about the money, about the hot wife he was afraid would leave him for someone with bigger balls and a speedboat. But there was an entire 30 percent—God help him—that did it for that night with Leon. To fill the holes the world bore into 40 percent of its citizens. For the way his mother, in the gratuitous ambulance, shook an entire tinted capsule of God knows what down her throat, not yet realizing she had died. And Teddy did not yet realize that he had, either.

Further Reading

  • Dopesick

    By Beth Macy • Little, Brown and Company • 2018

    This is the haunting and deeply reported story of what the opioid crisis has done to America told from the ground up, from the small Appalachian towns and dealers and users near where Beth Macy, veteran journalist for The Roanoke Times, lives to the marketing and sales departments of big pharma that sold America on these painkillers to the doctors’ offices, courtroom battles, and deaths that ensued.

  • Physicians Get Addicted Too

    By Sam Quinones • The Atlantic • May 2019

    In this enthralling feature, Sam Quinones, the author of his own must-read book about the epidemic, Dreamland, profiles a beloved West Virginia doctor who became not just one of the leading prescribers of opioids in his area but at the same time an addict himself. It’s a story of someone working to fix what he helped break.

  • The Opioid Diaries

    Photographs by James Nachtwey • Time • March 5, 2018

    After decades of documenting scenes of war and famine and disaster, the famed photojournalist turned his lens toward his home country and captured the faces of the epidemic, as people used and overdosed and sometimes died, or gave birth, or tried to save someone—be it themselves or their neighbors.