It was early October. Greg had been in hospital almost four weeks, bar a day. His discharge notes listed the ailments for which he had been treated ......... aspiration pneumonia,early stage cirrhosis of the liver, the possibility of Korsakoff's syndrome (though the current medical view was that he had had delirium resulting from the pneumonia), as well as heart disease,diabetes and circulation problems in his legs. We were well aware of the latter three problems, but now he had a few more to tag on to them. He was becoming something of a walking miracle.
In all that time in hospital, he had not smoked a single cigarette or had an alcoholic drink. There had been one of two occasions early on, when he had asked me to bring in cigarettes, but in any case he had nowhere to smoke them and had for a large proportion of the time been bedridden with tubes and oxygen masks, so obviously could not smoke in the ward. I had of course refused to bring in cigarettes even when he was a bit more mobile and eventually he had given up asking, because he could see I meant what I said. The deal made at the case conference was that he would not smoke or drink ever again, if he were to come back home with me. As I drove to the hospital that next morning to collect him, I felt uneasy. Would he stay sober this time or were we in for another bumpy ride? Would he be able to keep from smoking and, more importantly, from drinking?
I arrived at the hospital mid-morning and helped him pack his things into plastic bags. He was impatient to be out of there. As I have mentioned before, he loathes hospitals with a passion to the point of phobia. He was fretting every time a nurse came past his bed, hoping they would give him the green light to leave, only to be told they were waiting for paperwork to be signed or for his home-going medication to be delivered to the ward. Then, when all that had been finalised, they said he would need to leave the ward in a wheelchair and be transported to the main exit by a porter. He argued that I could push him. Anything to get out of there quicker. But rules are rules and they would not humour his requests. Finally, we were escorted down to the main entrance by two ward staff who pushed his wheelchair and helped me with the various bags. They waited with him while I fetched the car from the car park and they safely delivered him into my car once I drove up to them. I couldn't help feeling that they wanted to personally see him off the premises, as if they were glad to be rid of him. He had certainly not been a reasonable patient. We waved goodbye and I turned on the car ignition.
I kid you not.... we were only 10 yards/metres away from the building (and still well within the hospital grounds) when Greg asked if I could pull in at the nearest tobacconist on the way home to get a packet of cigarettes. Hang on, had I heard right? I could not believe that he had burst my dream bubble so soon. WE WERE STILL IN THE HOSPITAL GROUNDS!!!!
I cannot recall exactly what happened then, because I was so shocked and my mind was in overdrive, but I do know I yelled at him, threatened to drive him straight back to the hospital entrance and dump him right there and then, because he had already broken his side of the bargain. He reasoned that he had said that he would have no problem giving up the drink, but that the smoking would be a major problem, as he had been smoking for nearly 40 years. He argued that he had managed without cigarettes for nearly 4 weeks in hospital, but it had been hard. All he wanted was one cigarette and that would help. I shouted at him that he had just survived pneumonia, for heaven's sake. What would possess him to want to smother his lungs in smoke? He pleaded for the chance to have just one. Like a condemned man. As it happened there were still two full packets at home which I had been loathe to throw away, as I just KNEW he would return to smoking. With the price of cigarettes what they are (and our finances in a pretty poor state), I saw little reason to throw away good stock. So I refused to stop at any shops on the way home and hoped he might acquiesce on the journey. However, when we got home, he kept begging for just one and I stupidly produced one single cigarette from a packet and took it to him. Keeping to his side of the bargain made at that conference, he went out into the garden in the chilly October afternoon and smoked half of it. Why was it I felt a harridan for making him smoke outside, when all I was trying to do was preserve the quality of the air Kay and I breathe?
As the days went on, he crept slowly around the house, finding the stairs quite a problem, as he was still terribly weak from the pneumonia, but not so weak that he would ask me for one more cigarette and then another. By the end of the first week, he was asking for two cigarettes a day. He would go all day without smoking at all, using a nicotine-replacement inhaler, but always asked for his two cigarettes at supper time. He would eke them out over the course of 24 hours until supper time came round again, smoking half an inch here or half an inch there. But considering he had been a 40-a-day smoker, the fact that he had gone down to two a day was in fact progress (although not if you consider he had not smoked at all for the four weeks in hospital!!)
His appetite was coming back in leaps and bounds, supplemented by prescribed Thiamine, Vitamin B and a hospital yoghurt drink supposedly for victims of malnutrition. Most importantly of all, he genuinely did not seem to want an alcoholic drink and did not mention it once.