Not All Heroes Wear Capes

The lobby at GLIDE was buzzing with activity on the morning of March 3rd, crowded with visitors looking for a brief reprieve from the cold San Francisco winter.

As staff and visitors milled, a voice cut through the crowd with a tone of urgency as bone-chilling and silencing as the wind outside – “Give me all the Narcan we’ve got, I need all the Narcan we’ve got!” The room froze as the collective heart skipped a beat. Undistracted, Iris swept up armfuls of the nasal sprays and ran outside hastily. The lobby filtered out behind her as she belted down the street.

At the corner of Ellis and Jones, the body of a man laid strewn on the ground, under the dark awnings of a corner store. Iris hovered over him. There was no pulse – he had overdosed. The crowd drew timidly closer as Iris began to administer Narcan. One dose, two doses, she sprayed one after the other into his nose. Tim lay still.

Three doses. The street had fallen silent.

Four doses.

Tim jolted, his sharp inhale reverberated against the walls of the quiet buildings. As his eyes fluttered open, he turned a confused gaze towards Iris.

 “You were dead, hon,” Iris said.

“What?” Tim replied.

“You were dead. I brought you back.”

In the distance, a crescendo of sirens signaled the ambulance that came four Narcans too late.

Iris stands outside of GLIDE, just hours after administering life-saving Narcan

For the People

The numbers speak volumes of a crisis that continues to wreak havoc in San Francisco – 650 lives were lost to overdose in 2021 alone in the city, a 59% increase from just before the pandemic in 2019. What’s more, nearly 80% of all opioid overdose deaths take place outside of medical settings, ushering in a new era where heroes in street clothes are stepping into the role of first responder.

“Everyone on GLIDE’s Community Safety team knows how to administer Narcan, we all get trained,” Iris explained shortly after her encounter with Tim. “I don’t wear a doctor uniform, but I’ve saved so many lives out here, I don’t even count anymore.”

Many members of GLIDE’s Community Safety Team carry doses of Narcan with them as a precaution

“In this neighborhood, anything can happen,” said Lorenzo, another member of GLIDE’s Community Safety team. On the morning of the overdose, Lorenzo was key in alerting Iris to the emergency. For both colleagues, there was a deeper connection to Tim that heightened the urgency of their response. “GLIDE knows who Tim is, personally,” Lorenzo explained. “I see him every day, he eats here every day. This was something that I needed to do.”

The Community Safety team at GLIDE holds some of the closest relationships with clients, interacting with hundreds of people each day and slowly building trust through their honesty, transparency, and genuine acts of service. In this way, clients like Tim know who they can turn to when they are ready to receive support, no matter where they are on their path to stability.

Unconditional Love

Several weeks after his overdose, Tim returned to GLIDE to pick up a meal and speak with Iris. As he recounts, the close call was spurred on by a syringe containing unknown substances.

After hearing of Tim’s experience, Iris took the opportunity to connect him with GLIDE’s Harm Reduction services, where he can access clean needles, free HIV testing, and his own supply of the Narcan that saved his life just weeks ago.

“It was a big mistake,” Tim recalls. “But if you didn’t come up, Iris, I could’ve been way worse. They said I could’ve been dead.”

As the two parted ways, Iris left with a reminder – “I love you, Tim. Give me a hug.”