A heroin needle broke off in her neck. It ended up saving her life.

KUOW News –

A story about the connection between one patient and her doctor —and how more hospital emergency rooms are becoming entryways to drug treatment.

Justina Bauthues tried to get help dozens of times during the eight years she spent addicted to heroin. But the right kind of help was always out of reach.

“I used up all nine of my lives for sure,” Bauthues said.

A few years ago, Bauthues was living in her car near the US-Canada border. She stole food to eat and items to sell for drugs.

“I was in trouble with the law. As low as you could possibly get,” she said.

Injecting heroin left a mark: scars along her arms, legs and one on her neck. It’s pretty subtle, half way up on the right side, nestled in a crease.

“I was using in my jugular because I didn’t have any other veins left,” Bauthues said.

When the tip of a needle broke off in her neck, it missed her jugular and became lodged in the surrounding tissue. It actually didn’t hurt, she said — it didn’t feel like anything.

Afraid of the nurses’ judgment, Bauthues didn’t go to nearest hospital in Bellingham.

“I didn’t want to be shamed and because it was a shameful thing.”

Instead she tried to take it out on her own with tweezers.

“Which obviously didn’t work and just made it angry and infected,” Bauthues said.

Finally, her boyfriend said enough is enough and he drove her an hour away to the ER at Skagit Valley Hospital where Dr. Shawna Laursen was on duty.

“I remember the triage nurse coming back and rolling her eyes like, ‘Oh my god. This woman’s got a needle in her neck,’” Laursen said.

Laursen understands that reaction.

“You see addiction all the time and you see people with addiction at their very worst. Again and again and again,” Laursen said. “It’s hard to not get a bit jaded.”

Long before Bauthues showed up in that ER, however, Dr. Laursen developed a mission to treat patients differently.

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