For the first time in years, we had peace and quiet at home. It was lovely. True, I went in to visit Greg in hospital every afternoon and it took a large chunk out of my day, just travelling to and from the hospital. Snoopy learned to cope on his own for a few hours at at time and was in any case adult enough by now not to reduce the home to matchwood in my absence. When I was not visiting in hospital, I was trying to scrub and polish the house to an inch of its life. So much house-cleaning had been neglected because Greg had been so ill. Thick nicotine stains adorned the walls and ceiling. When he was constantly drifting in and out of sleep on the sofa, I could never vacuum the floor, or dust around him! The house was desperate for a good clean. I still had to find time to exercise Snoopy each day too, so I was generally exhausted when bedtime came around, but the peace and quiet more than compensated for everything. I slept contentedly, not having to listen out for a thud of Greg falling over or for sounds of the house catching fire from a neglected cigarette. Kay and I had the freedom of knowing we were not going to get our heads bitten off and we began to relax noticeably. I was even happier when at the end of each week the doctors announced that they wanted to keep Greg in for a further week, and then another, then another.
For the first week, Greg was so out of it from the drugs used to calm his heart and treat the alcohol withdrawal, that he was not really aware of what was happening to him or of my visits. He was often very confused. It was not helped that he kept getting moved to different medical wards during the first two weeks, as they desperately needed the beds in the coronary unit, then in the high-dependency unit. Once he was unhooked from the heart-monitoring machines, they felt he could be cared for in any of the other medical wards. But the prescribed drugs and the moving about from ward to ward was having an effect on him. He once rang me up at 2 am in the night and left a message on our answer-phone. He said it was strange that nobody had brought his lunch yet and it was already 2 pm (no, it wasn't - it was 2 am) and why was I not there to visit him? On another occasion, he rang his mother and from what he said to her, it was obvious he thought he was talking to me. He did look a sad figure too at this point and more like an old man than someone in his mid-fifties. On one occasion, he rang me in tears. He had been attacked brutishly in the middle of the night by a young man in the next bed, because he had been snoring loudly. Greg had retreated in fear to the nurse's desk and spent the rest of the night watching TV in the TV room. The nursing staff confirmed this was true, when I arrived for my visit, and said they would move Greg to another ward for his own safety, where he would be able to have his own room for a night or two. By the third week, the old Greg was beginning to emerge, hating every minute of being in hospital and driving the staff crazy. They had already confiscated the whisky in his bag, which (yes) I had been unable to remove from him on that first day in hospital. But I was so proud of him because he seemed to be managing without any cigarettes at all. By this third week, he was doing so well without any cigarettes and then I discovered that all along he had been walking the corridors to the outpatient area, approaching complete strangers visiting the hospital and begging the odd cigarette off them. One man had even gone out to the nearest local shops and bought him back a whole packet!
In all, Greg stayed in hospital for 4 weeks while they sorted him out. Not only had they had to deal with his heart and gastric ulcer, but further tests had revealed liver damage too. In addition to that they had decided that his diabetes now needed treating with insulin injections and so they were training him how to self-inject. Greg's closest "best" friend came to visit him and so did one or two old work colleagues, but they were told the barest facts about his hospitalisation. Namely that he had had a burst stomach ulcer and a mild heart attack. They did not know about the alcoholism. It was difficult having to issue bulletins when they rang me up over the phone subsequently to find out his progress. I always had to make sure I did not refer to liver damage as well as the liver consultant's visits. I sometimes wanted to tell them, as I was sure there were gaps in the story which might puzzle them, but they did not ask (perhaps they guessed anyway) but I didn't venture the information. I was also nervous that the story might get out when I recognised one of the chief pharmacists in the hospital as a woman I knew from walking Snoopy in the park. She would know from the pills Greg was taking what his problem was and I just hoped she would be discreet and not tell other dog-walkers if she saw them, particularly because one dog-walker is the mother of one of Kay's best friends at school!
The day came when Greg was allowed to come home. As I collected him from the ward and drove him home on that cold November morning, I hoped this was a new beginning and we could at last start to enjoy our early retirement together. It would soon be Christmas 2006.