The continuing saga of Greg's decline........
The doctor's advice was quite simple. Cut back gradually. Yet again we heard that Greg should not stop drinking suddenly because of the withdrawal symptoms, but he should reduce gradually either by one glass at a time or by marking the bottle into sections and reducing a section at a time. You would think that would be easy to take in and manage, particularly if your health is at stake, but Greg just could not do it. He just sat at that dining table day in and day out and by the end of the day another bottle had been emptied. He was still barely eating. To me he seemed to have lost the will to try, but I could still not discuss it with him, because he would fly into a volatile temper and shriek the place down. When he shouts, the noise seems to go through your head and slice it open. So, I began to ignore him totally to keep the peace. I treated him almost as a lodger. An unwelcome one at that. I could shake him at times for having brought all this on himself. I sometimes could even wish that he would die, to put us all out of this hell, but I could also still feel very deeply for a man I had once loved who was still there somewhere, but no longer recognisable. I was increasingly finding that I needed someone to confide in. My sister-in-law, Jill, was my main confidante, but I now told my two closest friends as well. My mother soon joined the close circle of those who knew, when she visited, as it was obvious things were not right. To everyone else, I put on an act as if everything was hunky dory. I even managed to convince myself !
Even in the knowledge that he was doing damage to his liver, Greg still couldn't reduce the amount he was drinking and we continued the daily grind of alternating the outlet from which we bought his daily whisky bottle. His life consisted now solely of waking, drinking, watching TV and sleeping. He barely ate, he barely went out of the house except for doctor's appointments, he barely spoke except to shout, if we dared to say anything to him, however harmless.
A man called Matt at the Alcohol and Drug Counselling Service (ADCS) contacted us and arranged for us to visit him, so he could assess Greg. The options were for Greg to reduce drinking gradually on his own, or apply to go into detox and eventually rehabilitation. Matt explained that detox takes about a week to ten days to get the toxins of drugs or alcohol out of the system, stopping you physically needing it or going through withdrawal symptoms. But detox on its own does not stop you returning to alcohol or drugs in the future. That is where rehabilitation (or rehab) comes in. Rehab is a much longer process, usually about six months, and gets to the root of why you drink or take drugs and how to overcome the temptations. They go hand in hand and don't really work independently of one another. The waiting list for both is quite long, but particularly for rehab, because a strong financial case has to be made for local authority funding. We certainly did not have the funds for a private clinic: any savings or loans we had were disappearing rapidly on funding the addiction. Matt said he would put Greg on the waiting list, but it could take up to nine months or so for the financial approval for detox and rehab. Greg was desperate but agreed to do whatever it took to set the wheels in motion, as he could not go on much longer the way he was going.
Greg began to look paler and paler, so when he mentioned that he thought he was losing blood in his stools, I feared the worst. God knows how, but I managed to persuade him to go with me to the hospital Accident and Emergency and get them to check him over. I think he was feeling so rough by then that he would have signed his life away on any dotted line, if it meant him feeling better. Unfortunately, once again, the A&E were not very sympathetic. As soon as alcohol is mentioned, their eyes seem to roll heavenward. We mentioned the possible blood loss, but that fact was probably hidden amongst a dozen other symptoms we reeled out. The young medic was so overwhelmed by what was being presented to him (and in any case was still concentrating on the whole issue of alcoholism) that, after taking some blood tests, he just repeated what we had heard so often before... that Greg must cut back gradually on his alcohol consumption. They sent us home again, as if we were wasting their time. My stomach churned...I felt so frustrated that there was nobody professional to turn to, who could solve this nightmare.
The next day, as promised, Greg's sister Jill came to stay for a few days with her son and daughter during the October half-term holiday. We had not seen her for a year or more and I thought it would cheer Greg up and perhaps pull him out of the rut he seemed to be in. I also thought his sister would be able to talk to him and maybe calm him down in a way I had been unable to. Often those working too close to a problem can't see the wood for the trees. I hoped Jill might have a different perspective. But sadly Greg made no attempt to communicate with her and just lay weak and intoxicated on the sofa for the whole time Jill was there. He refused any attempts to do anything together and on one occasion we left him alone at home while Jill, her son, her daughter, Kay and I went for the day to the Cabinet War Rooms in Central London, something Greg would once upon a time have been keen to join in with.
Jill was very worried about the drastic change in her brother. She and I decided, while we walking around the Cabinet War Rooms, that we would together have another attempt at approaching the GP to see what could be done. Jill had once been a nurse. She kept warning me of a condition called oesophageal varices, brought on by drinking excessively. In layman's terms they are varicose veins in the throat which can rupture and cause death. She warned me to be on the look out for this, as she had seen it quite often in her nursing days. To be honest, her words terrified me witless. So the next day we went out, telling Greg we were going to wander around the shops, but headed straight for the GP's surgery. Unfortunately our usual GP was away that week, but we saw another GP in the practice who had dealt with Greg in the past about his heart problem, and told him all about the latest stages of the case. We told him how concerned we were and how we felt frustrated not to be getting anywhere. To cut a very long conversation short (the GP was gracious enough to spend 30 minutes of his time with us - well over the average length of a GP consultation), the GP agreed to look into the matter and see if he could not get Greg to come and see him. Jill was due to go home with her children the next day. I felt I would soon be on my own with the problem again. I just did not know how much longer I could go on with it. We had a wander around the local park with the children and the dog and just kept discussing the whole problem from every angle and aspect until we had exhausted every avenue.
That night, I awoke at about 3 am to find Greg mumbling in his sleep again. His arms were waving around like a demented windmill. Then suddenly he sat bolt upright and tried to stand up to go to the bathroom. He was gone a few minutes and I was just drifting back into sleep when I felt the bed bounce with his weight. But he was not lying full-length on the bed - his legs were dangling off the end and his head only came half-way up the bed.
"Help me further up the bed", he said, "I can't seem to move."
In the dark, I tugged at his heavy frame, but he was a dead weight for me and I could not manage it. By now, my heart was pounding with the enormity of what appeared to be happening and I was wide awake. I put on the bedside light to assess what I should do. It was then that I saw the full picture. Greg was lying on top of the bed in a pool of blood.