Greg's early retirement officially started four years ago. However, despite not having to go to work any more, he was surprisingly getting more and more tired all the time and not up to much. All his plans for retirement - more DIY, ad hoc trips abroad on his own to visit friends, resuming long-forgotten hobbies - all fell rapidly by the wayside. A visit to the doctor's surgery and further blood tests confirmed it - he now had Type 2 Diabetes to add to his other ailments. It was not so bad as it first sounded. It was something that could be controlled by diet alone. He was given fistfuls of leaflets by the practice nurse about healthy eating and I managed to collect a few cookbooks about the appropriately fashionable GI (Glycaemic Index) diet to help plan suitable meals. But the discovery of diabetes meant that he had even more advisers and consultants to see, over and above the heart and circulation specialists he was already seeing. (Remember, he does not like being prodded or poked or scrutinised or observed.) Now there were even more medics jumping on the bandwagon. Our daily diary was filling up with hospital appointments.
When told to do something, Greg tends to do the opposite. Not out of a sense of bloodymindedness, more in panic and wanting to be left alone. I suppose it is the human equivalent of a wild animal going into hiding when it is injured. He did not want to be monitored with endless blood tests or visits to the surgery nurse. He did not want to have to eat from a limited list of food. He just wanted to withdraw, be left alone, be allowed to think. He did not always want to eat at all, particularly at the usual mealtimes, so we had long agreed that he would get something for himself when he felt like it, so I left him to his own resources. If I reminded him that he had not eaten at all, as was often the case, he would get angry and ask me to leave him alone to make his own decisions. So I did, knowing full-well that it might mean he was not getting the right nutrients into him and could risk a hypo (in other words a diabetic coma).After a while the doctor put him on tablets to control the diabetes, as diet alone was proving impossible. He was also told to give up smoking as soon as possible because that would make the diabetes worse and lead to even poorer circulation in his legs which in turn could lead to gangrene and amputation. He found he could still not give up, especially as there was even more pressure on him to do so and even more people watching him fail.
We have a tall thin sort of house with several levels. The kitchen/diner is on the ground-floor and the lounge on a level above it. Above the lounge are three more levels containing the bedrooms and bathrooms. We had come to a compromise, seeing as he won't stop altogether, that he should only smoke in the kitchen/diner (or better still in the small garden, although that is difficult to enforce in torrential rain!) to spare me and my daughter being passive smokers. It meant she and I could at least have a smoke-free zone in the rest of the house. The consequence was that he spent his entire day in the kitchen/diner and watched the TV down there from breakfast TV to the late-night programmes. Too tired to do anything, he would just sit, smoke and drink. The more he drank and smoked, the more tired he got. A vicious circle. He loves the TV History Channel and began watching wall-to-wall programmes on every conceivable aspect of the two World Wars from the moment he got up until the moment he went to bed. His smoking increased and so, I am afraid, did the amount of whisky he was drinking. He would pour his first whisky at about 11am and by supper time, he would be asleep sitting in a dining chair in front of the TV, his chin resting on his chest. At a rough guess he was by now drinking well over 35cl a day (or a half-bottle) each day. Because of the rise in alcohol, his appetite was beginning to wane and he was barely eating. Meals he had once loved suddenly tasted awful. He would toy with his fork on the plate and after a few mouthfuls he would take his plate to the kitchen and scrape the whole plateful into the bin. This behaviour increased until his drinking was spiralling out of control.
In the early days of his retirement, we used to take turns to walk the dog. As his drinking grew worse, so the times he offered to walk the dog grew less, until that more or less fizzled out too and that side of things was left to me. But one afternoon, he was feeling a bit better, it was a high-pressure day, the sky was blue, the sun was out and he felt like a walk with Snoopy. He got in the car and drove the short distance to the park. (yes, I know, he should not have been anywhere near the wheel of the car, but try telling him that. He would always say what a careful driver he was and that even drunk he was better at driving than most people were when they were sober.) Hmmm. No comment.
He drove off at about 2pm to the park about half a mile from us. Time passed. I was busy with something in the house. Totally preoccupied. Suddenly I realised he had been gone for about 3 hours, when an average walk takes about an hour. Trying not to panic, I reasoned that he had probably bumped into one of the other dog-walking crowd in the park, as he sometimes did, and was sitting on a log having a cigarette with them and putting the world to rights. Just as I was beginning to convince myself, no, really convince myself, the phone rang. It was a fellow dog-walker to say that she had been talking to Greg when he had collapsed in the park, an ambulance had been called and he had been taken to hospital. She, meanwhile, had taken Snoopy to her house and would be grateful if I could collect the dog as soon as I was able.
On arriving at Accident and Emergency, I was shown to the cubicle where Greg lay unconscious. The A & E sister explained that nothing was wrong with him over and above the fact that he was intoxicated. She told me they were letting him sleep off his stupor. They had him on a Vitamin B drip (alcoholics tend to be rather in short supply of this.) I had my daughter Kay (then about 13) with me, as she had returned home from school just after I had received the phone call. We both tried to talk to him but it was pointless. He either drifted in and out of sleep, or shouted at us. A lot of what he said was gobbledegook. The staff suggested we went home, as Greg would certainly be admitted for overnight observation. I made the drive home somehow. I was shaking but trying to stay brave and positive for Kay's sake. I tried to overemphasise that he was ill and he would recover from it. We made a diversion en route to collect Snoopy who has never looked more pleased to see us and I chuntered on to the woman who had looked after him about what might have caused Greg to collapse. Not the truthful version, anyway. There is no way you can tell anyone what has really happened. You feel immense shame and want to keep it under wraps. I think I may have mentioned diabetic coma or something like that to explain why he might have suddenly fainted. When we got home, we made supper and was just dishing it up when the phone rang - it was the hospital to say that Greg had discharged himself and wanted me to collect him as soon as possible.