07 July 2008

Ebbing Away

The ambulance came within minutes of my 999 call. There were three paramedics in total - two in the ambulance and one who had come on ahead in a car. Snoopy was barking his head off at the strangers and it woke the children who came drowsily out of their beds to find the cause of the noise. Before the ambulance crew had arrived, I had already woken and warned my sister-in-law about what had happened. She had set to, washing the blood off Greg (as I have said before, she is an ex-nurse), while I hastily got dressed, because I instinctively guessed I would need to go with him to a hospital. I thank God Jill was by chance with me on that night of all nights, as I am certain I would have not been able to cope single-handedly with the situation.

When I led the ambulance crew into the bedroom, they were clearly shocked to see what had happened. They did all sorts of necessary tests and asked questions within a very quick time scale and then said they would take him to our nearest Accident and Emergency Department. As they were transferring Greg by stretcher into the ambulance, Greg pulled me closer to him and whispered in German, so nobody else would understand, that he wanted me to bring the bottle of whisky with me to the hospital. I should put it in his bag of belongings which I had hastily packed while the paramedics were initially dealing with him. Even in that dire condition, he was still terrified of getting withdrawal symptoms and wanted to ensure he had the whisky close to him. I was of two minds what to do, but thought it best to take it with me and then make the decision once I was at the hospital.

I followed the ambulance in my car through the dark, ghostly-quiet streets of London. It was by now about 4.30am and London had not really got going for the day. I left poor Jill and the children behind with the unenviable task of clearing up the mess in the bedroom. At one stage, the ambulance pulled over to the side of the road and I pulled over behind them, not knowing whether they might get out or whether I should. In the few minutes that I deliberated what to do,
I wondered whether he was slipping away and whether they were trying to resuscitate him. I never did find out why they stopped, but after a few minutes they carried on again in the direction of the hospital with me following only a few yards behind. We arrived at A&E at around 5 am and I found somewhere to park the car while the paramedics took him into the building. Once inside, I noticed there was hardly anyone there and we were the only ones in the queue. Most patients had either long been dealt with and sent home or were comfortable in their cubicles awaiting results -except for one woman wailing loudly and almost rhythmically in the cubicle directly next to us, which gave the whole scene a sense of eeriness. Greg was immediately tested for blood pressure which was ridiculously low, because of the amount of blood he had lost, so much so that the modern digital machines could not test for it and he had to be measured with an old-fashioned cuff. The reading was 56 over 31. The staff were clearly quite worried about that reading and were trying to raise it. They were also asking me a lot of questions about the blood and asking whether he had vomited any or whether it was from his bowels. So crucial was this information that they asked me the same question several times over several hours. I assured them he had not vomited anything. They took blood tests and they catheterised him to help raise the blood pressure which eventually went up to 92 over 77. His haemoglobin (red blood cell) level was 6.9 when apparently in healthy men it should be between 12 and 14, so they decided immediately to give him four pints of blood in a transfusion. Eventually there were three doctors and one nurse all buzzing around his bed. The doctors would then go away and discuss the case, then come back again, then go away. At one stage the consultant also came past and did a quick examination before they all went into a huddle again. Greg meanwhile kept saying he wanted to nip out and have a cigarette. He could barely raise his head off the pillow let alone sit up or stand up. I couldn't believe he was thinking of smoking at such a time. Naturally, they refused him. Greg asked again, offering to take me with him as a physical support, but still they refused. With that low blood pressure, they said, he was going nowhere. Later on, during a quiet moment together, he asked me to pass him the bottle of whisky and, for once, I refused. My thoughts were that if he did have a withdrawal crisis, at least he was in the right place. Greg did keep falling in and out of sleep while he lay on the trolley, so that helped to take his mind off the cigarettes and the whisky. Eventually, the doctors were able to confirm that Greg had had a gastric ulcer bleed (nothing to do with oesophageal varices, thank God) and that he would need to go up to the theatre for a gastroscopy later that day. Meanwhile they would start to give him medication to wean him off the alcohol. At last I felt we were getting somewhere.

I went home to give the good news to Jill and Kay who had been slaving away in my absence cleaning blood off the bed clothes and the carpet in the bedroom and bathroom. We were all exhausted but nevertheless slightly relieved that our prayers had been answered and that at last something positive was now happening. Twelve hours ago, things had looked so bleak. Now there was hope. In the late afternoon, we all headed off to the hospital, convinced that by now Greg would have undergone surgery on the gastric ulcer. When we arrived on his ward, we discovered he had not had surgery at all. It turned out that the earlier blood tests had also shown he had had a mild heart attack whilst in A&E, brought on by the sudden drop in blood pressure. Some enzymes normally present in the blood directly after a heart attack had shown up in the samples. On that basis the doctors were not happy to proceed with the gastroscopy surgery. They decided to let the heart rest and monitor it, simultaneously treating the gastric ulcer with medication. The gastroscopy would be done much later once the heart had had a chance to recover. Jill returned home that evening with her children, and Kay and I began to pick up the pieces. Greg meanwhile was transferred to the Coronary Care Unit.


laurie said...

oh, god, what a nightmare.

how long ago was this?

i can just see it all.

aims said...

You say that you didn't think that you could have coped with the situation had Jill not been there - but you would have. You are made of steel - and the strands have grown stronger with each day you have spent with Gregg. You definitely would have coped and you do - daily. Brave - strong - and loyal woman. That is you.

This is exactly what Laurie says it is - a nightmare! Some people would never have pulled through it and been able to write about it later. See your strength?!

rosiero said...

Hi, Laurie. This was about 21 months ago - October 2006

Aims - thanks for the compliment. I don't always feel those attributes though, but I suppose you are right. I am surviving, despite what has happened.

goodbyetoallfat said...


I've just caught up with your two last posts and they are heart-rending. Sometimes I just don't know what to say.

Best wishes,

Fern said...

It defies belief that Greg could still think of whisky at a time like this but illustrates vividly to me just what it means to be an alcoholic.

Mid-lifer said...

I've been holding my breath reading that. Relieved he's in hospital, but need to know what happened next!

goodbyetoallfat said...


You have a mini mention in my blog today.

Best wishes,

blogthatmama said...

I'm amazed he still had the will to smoke and drink after a heart attack, he must be so addicted poor man and, of course, poor you, blogthatmamax

Frog in the Field said...

I had to read all of this and yet I hated every word, this is almost exactly describing my fathers' story. So much heartache.
You are a wonderful woman to stay, but get your daughter away from it, if you possibly can.
With my very best wishes

Flowerpot said...

It's incredible what life throws at us and how we deal with it. You are one strong woman R. Good for you.

rosiero said...

Thank you for all your support. It means a lot, I assure you.

disa said...
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