08 February 2012

Attention, All Medics!

The Immortal Alcoholic has highlighted a problem that seems to be happening worldwide - that of the medical profession not taking alcoholism seriously and treating alcoholic patients as "throw-away people". Just like the case Immortal Alcoholic presents, as soon as your average alcoholic turns up at Accident & Emergency with a non-alcohol related complaint, the staff, on hearing that the person is an alcoholic, tend to roll their eyes heavenwards and dismiss the symptoms as unimportant or alternatively automatically connect the symptoms to the alcoholism and fail to do further more searching tests.

I have personally witnessed this happening in the many visits Greg and I used to make to A&E, some alcohol-related and some not. On one occasion, Greg had torn off two of his toenails. (Because of his sloppy hygiene, he had allowed them to grow ridiculously long and then would walk barefoot around the house until one day he caught them on a sofa leg and they ripped off.) I managed to get him to Casualty with blood pumping out of his toes, but as soon as "alcoholic" was mentioned, he was left unattended on a stretcher for several hours as a non-priority to "sleep it off". On another occasion, I took him to A&E because he was feeling very unwell, kept collapsing and looked pale. He was sent home, almost immediately as the staff concluded he needed to sober up, even though he was at that time clinically dependent on alcohol and could not just stop drinking without a proper detox system in place. The next day he collapsed at home complaining of the same thing and was taken this time by ambulance to the same A&E, wherepon this time they discovered he had internal bleeding and had probably had it the day before too.

I know from what Kay tells me that precious little time is spent teaching medics about alcohol abuse and what is taught is very superficial. It is shoved in to a small corner of a lecture here or there when covering other subjects, such as the liver or dementia or depression. It is not really given much weight of its own and certainly not the wider implications of how it affects the whole family, or how an alcoholic has every right to be taken as seriously as someone with cancer when the alcoholic is seriously ill, even if the damage is self-inflicted. Oh no. The eyeball rolling is by far still the most common reaction.

Alcoholism is on the increase. Dawn closing times at clubs and pubs means people have longer time to drink even more. Supermarkets and petrol stations stay open all night and sell the stuff. Students and the young in general seem to be out till the wee small hours binge-drinking on a regular basis. Clubs offer ridiculously cheap shots to lure customers in. Some large towns have an SOS bus hanging around the main town centre to help cope with the amount of injured drunks stumbling around at the weekend and relieve the pressure on the local A&E. This problem is not going to go away. In fact it is going to get worse. So like it or not, the medical profession needs to address how they intend to deal with this. I know that they are understaffed and that money in the NHS has to go a long way round, but one day they will dismiss a person as an alcoholic and fail to see something more serious.

Alcoholism doesn't hand-pick its victims. There but for the Grace of God and all that. One day, it could be their child or their mother or brother. It could be yours.


Furtheron said...

Great post - I have nothing to add.

Kelloggsville said...

Why is there the feeling that an alcoholic brings it on themselves and can stop if they want to. Patients with cancers contiinue to smoke, obese people are still fed. Can you imagine ' you can't cut your toenails because you are so fat, why are you still eating? Stop him eating, stop buying him food' no thought not. Discrimination from lack of understanding.

Dr Erhumu said...

Certainly got my attention, wrote about "why a pint may be too much" on my blog. Medics should not discriminate while treating alcoholics.

Anonymous said...

Hi Addy,

Yes, I agree. I would say it was also the same for smokers. My gran never got taken seriously at the hospital because she was a smoker and everything was explained away with that.

As you said alcaholism is going to increase. Its more avaiable and cheaper than it ever was. Add to that the financial crisis aloe of individuals and families are experiencing at the moment and there are circumstance to push it into an increase.

As you pointed out the more understaffed and underfunded the NHS is becoming the more strain they are under. But most definitely a patient under the influence is not immune from other ailments with the same symptoms and those should be checked out before jumping to any conclusions or there most definitely be people failed by the system which will do no-one any good.

All the best


Looking for Blue Sky said...

Maybe they're afraid? I'm still afraid of my alcoholic ex.

the veg artist said...

I think Blue Sky has a point. My ex was a binge-drinker. Age 50+! He had not drunk as a young man, so I understood, and would go for weeks without a drink - until a social occasion arose. Then he would drink, and drink, and drink, till appalling physical consequences were followed by oblivion. Obviously, he was not capable of discussing his behaviour while still drunk, but neither was he capable of any conversation which touched on the topic of drink during the long periods in between.
He would develop an anger that was present in no other aspect of his life. He could not tolerate a discussion on how these 'occasional' binges were destroying our marriage, and expressed total surprise when I finally left him.
There seemed to be a 'protection' towards needing to be drunk, as though any criticism threatened a core, essential part of him.

Anonymous said...

It's an appalling attitude to have towards people who clearly have an illness. There should be no room for prejudices and judgements when it comes to treating those who are ill, and especially those who need hospitalisation.

CJ x

dulwich divorcee said...

Ironic, really, as doctors themselves are said to be more prone to alcoholism than other professionals - you'd think they'd be more generous-spirited. Sorry you had those horrible experiences with Greg.