26 March 2010

The lump

A hard aching lump is nestled about 4 inches from my throat somewhere in the middle of my chest. It refuses to budge, to rise upwards and outwards, to erupt into a cry. Instead it stays fixed inside, forcing a smile on my face, pushing me ever on to do all the million and one things that are asked of me at the moment. Officialdom, paperwork, decisions, insistent phone calls.

A few people commented on my previous post what is blindingly obvious, when you think about it. Greg didn't die a few weeks ago: he died five years ago. I lost him to something else a good while ago. Not another woman, but something more dangerous, more subtle. The person he used to be, the one I fell in love with, disappeared off the radar eons ago. I have been on my own, dealing with the minutiae of everyday problems, making decisions, bringing up Kay, socialising on my own for some considerable time. Nothing in the last three weeks has changed in that sense. The only difference is when I come down to the kitchen each morning I am no longer met with the smell of cigarette smoke before I enter the room; no longer faced with the image of him sitting at the breakfast table with his half-empty whisky glass; no longer forced to watch when he later slumbers half-on, half-off the sofa or on the floor. No more watching him retch first thing, before he takes a drink to still his rebellious stomach. No more whisky runs at the supermarket. No more emergency dashes to the hospital. How can I miss these? But the kind-hearted individual, husband and father that he once was is long gone. I grieved for him in my tears by the bucketload over the last five years.

The funeral is next Monday. Family, friends old and new, and many work colleagues will be there. They have been phoning, writing and emailing about what a wonderful man he was, how proud he was of Kay and me, what a difference he made to them. A man they still remember as he was. They did not see the Greg that was left behind once the whisky had done with him. They did not know what a slave to alcohol he had become and how it sucked him in and spat him out on an intensive care bed.

I see my mother and my daughter watch me like hawks. They try to protect or to hover when a subject comes up that might make me waiver. They look for a wobble in my voice or tears in my eyes, but that aching lump stays firm in my chest and refuses to budge. I just cannot cry.

16 March 2010

Tributes and tribulations

Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments you left on my last post. I have dipped in to read them, though it's been a hectic ten days since I last wrote. I never knew there was so much to do to arrange a funeral and notify people. Every day of the last ten days has been spent either at bank interviews, or on the telephone, or writing countless letters or emails informing friends, family, utilities and all and sundry about Greg's death. I have had to make endless decisions ranging from what to dress Greg in to what the funeral service should contain, from what accounts to close and what to announce in the local paper. I've also deliberated long and hard what to tell people about how he died and why he died. Some got the full truth, some got a potted version, depending on how I thought they might react. The phone has not stopped ringing. Overall I have been amazed at the lovely things people have said about him. About the Greg he ceased to be about five years ago. Work colleagues on the other side of the world have written beautiful letters about him, some have sent money for flowers, some have said they will attend the funeral even though they have not seen Greg in many years and live a few hundred miles away. Flowers have arrived for me from all corners of the globe. Ten of Kay's old school friends clubbed together and sent the most enormous bouquet of lilies imaginable. I have received more sympathy cards so far than I usually get Christmas cards, some from people I barely know. The volume of goodwill and heartfelt emotion has uplifted us and amazed us.


In reality, Kay and I are one of the few unable to cry. I have not shed a single tear since it happened. Kay is finding it hard too. I think we have built such a high wall around ourselves in order to cope with the last few years in particular, that we are finding it difficult to knock the wall down. It almost seems like it is someone else's husband who has died. I am going through the motions. When people say they are sorry, I nod and don't know what to say. The funeral is in another two weeks' time. I suspect it will probably hit me when the dust has settled and the last person has gone home. Then I'll cry.

***********************************

If anyone needed to be convinced of the horrors of alcoholism, they should have seen Greg during the last five days of his life. I almost felt like taking a photograph and sending it to all the national newspapers. It was harrowing to watch a grown man disintegrate before your eyes. Quite literally. When Greg was first moved to Intensive Care all he had to worry about was the pneumonia he had picked up in hospital. Because he was slipping into a coma, they needed to move him and intubate him quickly. He was heavily sedated so did not know that we (his sister, Jill, Kay and I) were there. But as the days wore on, it became clear his body was becoming riddled with all kinds of problems connected either with the alcohol or by diabetes or both. First we were told the liver was now irreversibly damaged and was causing toxins to build up in his body. It was also causing more internal bleeding anywhere from his throat through to his intestines. The doctors tried to stem the bleeding where they could and then new sites would emerge. Then we were told the kidneys had ceased to function. Fluid started to build up, so that he looked as if he has been blown up like a balloon. His skin on his arms and legs was so taut with the build-up of fluid that it started to split and ooze. He had always looked as if he were expecting quadruplets, because the liver was so distended; now he looked as if he were expecting octuplets. The pneumonia continued to take a firm hold and the antibiotics were doing a poor job.

The staff at the hospital were marvellous. I could not fault them. Each and every one of the nurses and doctors were saints. It did not matter to them that Greg was an alcoholic or had brought all this on himself. They left no stone unturned. They did all sorts of corrective procedures to try to halt or reverse what was happening to Greg. If it had not been the NHS, I dread to think what we would have had to pay for such treatment. Because he was in Intensive Care, Greg got a nurse all to himself on 12-hour shifts. They were wonderful. I watched as they injected, took blood samples, administered drugs, bathed, hung bags of saline or blood. Nobody told them what to do: they just got on quietly with it. Let nobody say a single word against the NHS: they were fantastic.

On the day before Greg died, it was clear to us and the doctors that Greg was being kept alive by machines only. With damaged liver, non-functioning kidneys, lungs full of pneumonia and a labouring heart, Greg was unlikely to survive and even if he had, the quality of his life would have been considerably compromised. He would have needed dialysis at best and would spend the rest of his life in a lot of pain unable to smoke or drink ever again. He would also face the prospect of one day bleeding to death. The doctors decided with our agreement to switch off Greg's life-support and let him sink or swim, although we all knew Greg would slowly slip away. At teatime on Friday 5th March, they took out his tubes and switched off the machine. They offered Jill, Kay and me a relatives' room on the ward, which comprised two single beds and an ensuite bathroom.We managed in turns to grab an hour or so's sleep that evening. But by 9pm we sat by Greg's bed and held his hand all through the night. The night shift came on and did all they could to make him and us comfortable. They gave him liquid food and painkillers - just for the comfort factor. Everything to make him comfortable, even though he was unconscious the entire time. They offered to order us a chinese takeaway at midnight (though we declined as we were not in the least hungry - our stomachs seemed in our throats). They plied us with cups of tea all through the night. At breakfast-time, they brought us platefuls of buttered toast and jam to eat at Greg's bedside. On Saturday 6th March, shortly after the day shift came on, Greg's blood pressure began to fall and fall until it was 29 over 25. His heart rate started to reduce, oxygen saturation levels fell rapidly and suddenly his fight against alcohol was over. My Greg was dead.

06 March 2010



Greg

29 April 1949 - 6 March 2010



Greg finally lost his struggle with alcoholism this morning. I cannot write more for now.

02 March 2010

Intensive Care Unit

I was called yesterday evening to visit the hospital, as Greg's condition has worsened and he had been moved to Intensive Care. They told me he was unable to breathe on his own and would almost certainly die if they did not intubate him. I rushed in to visit him, although he was unconscious and medical staff were pulling him about.He is now wired up to a bank of machines and fighting for his life. He is so weak from the pneumonia and has so many things wrong with him besides. Kay left Yorkshire at 5am this morning and was with me by 9am. Greg's sister drove down from Lincolnshire and arrived at 9.30am. Together we drove to the hospital this morning and put on a united front but our feelings go from pity to anger and all the emotions inbetween. The next 24-48 hours are crucial. Please pray for us.

01 March 2010

Medical Bulletin

Buckingham Palace used to put up medical bulletins when one of the Royal Family was ill, so what is good enough for them.........

The doctors did an endoscopy on Greg on Friday morning and found the cause of the bleed .....a varices (varicose vein brought on by excess drinking) in the lower intestine. They have dealt with that (I assume in the absence of any doctors to talk to that they cauterised it) and his blood pressure is back to normal. They are also giving him sedatives to cope with alcohol withdrawal. However he has now somehow contracted pneumonia and is on an oxygen mask as well as antibiotics and can barely talk or breathe. I was phoned just after breakfast and given permission to visit him this morning, even though the hospital is closed to visitors because of the winter vomiting virus, because he is on the critical list. He is as weak as a kitten and has not even mentioned cigarettes or whisky.......yet. Give him time......