Doug Nickerson, 59, waxes spiritual about his experience along Whalley’s most desperate of streets.
“Somebody put me here,” he says.
“I usually maintain a humble attitude. I was just doing what I could because I was there.”
To date, Nickerson has brought no less than 131 people back from drug-overdose oblivion along the 135A Strip, thanks to his handy naloxone kit. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids, of which fentanyl is an especially dangerous variety.
“It’s the fentanyl, that’s what’s changed the heroin world. I don’t look at myself as a hero so much as I’m just doing what I could, to help somebody out that was in no position to help themselves. That’s what it was all about, that’s what carrying the kit is for.”
Nickerson’s reputation precedes him. After word got out that doctors told him he has terminal pancreatic cancer, his many fans have donated to a GoFundMe.com campaign set up to raise money to help him realize his dying wish to see his elderly mom and dad in Nova Scotia.
To date, the site has raised $11,265 toward helping him make that trip, which he hopes to do in August.
“That’s when I would like to go.”
You ask Nickerson about the fundraising campaign, and he gets choked up.
“It’s overwhelming. I even cried,” he tells the Now-Leader. “I can’t believe it. People are giving so generously. I’m shocked. If it’s a dream, I don’t want to wake up. I guess I have to say that GoFundMe is a good idea. It’s made my trip to see the folks possible.”
He hasn’t seen his parents in 31 years. His sister also lives back east, in New Brunswick.
Nickerson left his native Nova Scotia for the west nearly four decades ago.
“It was all about going west,” he recalls. “I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, and I just wanted to go west, so it was a one-way ticket, VIA Rail, in 1979 for $140. Today it’ll be a lot more – you wouldn’t go very far for $140. I remember that trip, west on the train.”
Nickerson spent some time in Calgary, and then lived in Fernie about 10 years.
“That’s how much I liked it.”
Nickerson’s a born-again Christian, raised as a Baptist preacher’s kid. “That’s what gives me the strong standards that I have today,” he says. “That, you’ll have to thank my parents, for the way they brought me up.”
He was a commercial painter by trade before falling on hard times that saw him lose his apartment and live out of a camperized van in Whalley.
“So I had somewhere to sleep. It wasn’t like I was put out on the street, at that point, but two weeks later my van got towed, disappeared.”
Today he shares a two-bedroom rancher with three roommates in Whalley.
“I live very low budget. That takes some discipline. The situation worked out good.”
So did his own struggle with heroin, he says.
“I experimented with the heroin,” he said. “I’ve had five overdose experiences of my own. I’ve overdosed five times myself, and somebody has used a Narcan kit on me. I just came to the conclusion that dope’s not worth dying for.”
Today, Nickerson says, he’s free of the drug. “It starts with willpower. Your mind is a powerful thing. If you want to do something, and your mind is set on it, then you’ll accomplish what it is you want to do. That’s how I went after this heroin addiction.”
“I’m free of heroin.”
After being brought back from overdosing, he decided to return the favour many times over.
“That’s the secret, to have the kits out there, and people competent to use them,” he says.
Are there enough people out there competent to use the naloxone kits?
“Well…there are a few. I can remember the first time I used my kit. It was the first time, for me, to run a syringe. There’s a threshold I had to get over before I stuck that into the guy’s thigh. That was the hardest part, sticking the needle into the person. That would have been three years ago.”
If addiction is 24 hours a day, Nickerson says, so should be access to harm reduction equipment.
“I carry it so people can get harm reduction any time and the word travelled on the street, and I had quite a few people coming to get their harm reduction equipment from me.
“It’s similar to a bucket brigade. Somebody yells ‘Narcan,’ and the word goes down the street,” he says of the process.
“I don’t have a protocol. When I run to an overdose, it’s do whatever needs to be done at the time. You’d be surprised how many people don’t want 911 called. Once you’ve given them their shot of naloxone, and their eyes are opened, they’re content, you know.
“No, they don’t want to go to the hospital. So if 911 is called, they’re going to refuse the ambulance.
“A lot of people don’t like to go to Surrey hospital,” Nickerson reveals. “I had a girl say to me here about a month ago that she wouldn’t go to Surrey hospital if she got run over by a car in their parking lot.”
“Surrey hospital has worked up a callous towards people that use street drugs, and that’s where the problem comes in,” he says.
After doctors revealed he’s dying of cancer, Nickerson decided not to have chemotherapy.
“Chemotherapy’s just going to make me sick,” he says. “It’s just going to ruin my life as I know it right now.
“I don’t think about the cancer so much. It’s not something I think about, concentrate on. I prefer to think about life; what I’m doing, people I know,” he says.
“We’re just going to tough it out. You know, people beat cancer all the time. So it’s not like I can’t beat it.”