The Big Duh


Do you remember that woman who died from amateur silicone injections at a butt enhancement party?

Excuse the click-bait subhead, but this is a “listen to a dream I had” story, and people don’t usually care about other people’s dreams. Psychiatrists have lost interest in analyzing them, and belief in dream prophesy has declined sharply since biblical times. Still, every few years Mr. Subconscious stages a scene that seems worth sharing (and silicone enhancement does get mentioned).

The setting:  A large balcony on the sixth floor of a modern, hi-rise condo. It’s a party! Twenty people are laughing, talking, in a loose line behind me. The day is lovely, and the balcony overlooks acres of lush lawn behind the condo.

There are power-lines fifty yards out, but they’re nothing scary – no high tension towers – just some gray pine poles, old and crooked. In this setting it’s a cute rustic touch. Standing by the balcony’s low brick railing is a friend of mine – well, at least an acquaintance. Nice guy, not dumb, a little flighty, we get along. And apparently this is an Activity Party, because he’s handing me a bag, like a fabric grocery bag, containing what seems to be a small, loosely folded, slightly rubberized, parachute.

The expectation is clear.

But even in a dream, this demands careful thought:
We’re 60 feet up – don’t chutes need 200 feet to open? But it will probably open faster because of that rubber coating.

Still—if the chute does fail, 60 feet is an ugly height for jumping. There’s no chance you’ll land unharmed, but it might not be an instant end. I don’t want to think where my thigh bone could end up.

My friend is smiling; I’m holding the bag, checking its heft, and not feeling comfortable. “Those power-lines…” I say, “An odd gust of wind and it might not be pretty.” He chuckles as if I’m making a joke. I glance back at the guests, and no one’s looking my way. There’s no impatience, no foot tapping. There’s no pressure at all, but I stand there holding the bag, growing more uncomfortable.

I wake up. And instantly think, “I don’t even know who packed that parachute!” (Yes, there was an exclamation point.)

Within the next minute I’ve recalled the bungee jump company that left the cord a few feet too long. And the woman who received amateur silicone injections at a butt enhancement party, with fatal results. (A Google search shows over a dozen cases—and, really, each was tragedy for family and friends, not mere ha-ha click-bait.)

When I think about my dream now, I call it, The Big Duh. It’s a bad idea to jump off a balcony wearing a small rubberized parachute. Duh. Duh! Most people are awake enough to realize that.

And the story includes a postscript  – NCADA-relevant – that I call Echoes of the Big Duh:

Suppose you are not first in line at the parachute party. Suppose three people in front of you glide gently to the ground, laughing in delight. That lowers the perception of risk, even though the jump is as hideously dangerous as ever. (About one in four recreational opioid users become dependent.)

Or suppose fifteen people jump before you, smiling all the way down – it might seem foolish not to take the plunge. (About one in sixteen adults suffer from alcohol use disorder.)

People are not naturally good at assessing risk. When faced with a Big Duh, you might be tempted not one bit. You might laugh at the very idea. But lower the perceived risk a tiny amount, and the Echoes of the Big Duh become easy to ignore.

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