“I’m fine, but you must be freezing,” she said, as she draped a blanket over his shoulders. “It’s been raining for days.”
He shrugged. “My teeth are clattering like piano keys, but we’ve been through worse,” he said.
Abdul had come to rely on their weekly visits as his only semblance of stability during a time in which living on the street in San Diego had become what he called “a daily game of Russian roulette.” His longtime partner, Phasia McKee, had died in November of a suspected fentanyl overdose at 46 years old. Three of his friends had been run over and killed in their tents by an intoxicated driver who swerved onto the sidewalk. In the last year, Abdul had revived six people after fentanyl overdoses by administering CPR and the nasal spray naloxone. He had also overdosed five times himself, including once a few days earlier, when he collapsed on the sidewalk, gashed open his forehead, suffered a minor stroke and spent 36 hours in the emergency room before being released back to the street.
“How’s your recovery going?” Laine asked.
“I’ve got my miracle drug,” he said, holding up a small container of olive oil, pouring some onto his hands and massaging it into his skin.
“What about your medications?”
“They’re either lost, stolen or in here somewhere,” he said, as he began to sift through a grocery cart, a suitcase and two plastic bins that contained all his belongings. Laine knelt next to him to check his vitals. He had a slight fever, and his blood pressure was dangerously high. She gave him aspirin and took out her computer to add another line to his medical chart, which told the story of a life outside: chronic fatigue, malnourishment, alcoholism, blurred vision, schizoaffective disorder, depression, anxiety, paranoia.
For the past several weeks, Laine’s increasing concern about Abdul’s health had extended beyond her workdays with the nonprofit group Healthcare in Action and into her evenings, until she sometimes picked up her son at day care and drove 45 minutes back into San Diego just to make sure Abdul was still there. The average age of death for people who were homeless in San Diego was less than 50, and Abdul was about to turn 64.