29 July 2008

The Circle Game

While Kay is away on her expedition, I am taking advantage of my relatively free time (ha ha) to visit my mother for two weeks and do some long-awaited chores for her in her house and garden. At the same time I shall get a welcome break from the Alcoholic Daze household and a bit of a change of view, which will help to recharge the batteries. Snoopy will be coming with me too, so Greg will be left to fend on his own (which means he won't, of course). This will not be at all easy for him and he will need to have enough whisky supplies to keep him going while I am away. I shall therefore need to buy 15 bottles of whisky and 400 cigarettes for my absence. I'll leave you to work out the cost, not to mention the look on the shopkeeper's face when I buy them! I also know he will not cook for himself or probably eat at all. I am worried what I shall find on my return, but I need to look after my badly arthritic, housebound mother too, who has to spend most of the time coping alone, and I simply cannot be in two places at once. Sometimes I feel as if I am going round in circles.....cue for a song.

For those of you also going away on a holiday or break - have a good time.
Back soon around mid August!

26 July 2008


My 85-year-old Mum has just received a medal. She was awarded it this week for her efforts serving in the Women's Land Army during the Second World War. It has been a long time coming - she left in 1947, but now the kind Ministry of Agriculture (as it was known then, aka defra nowadays) has seen fit, after much lobbying, to bestow these Land Army octogenarians and nonagenarians belatedly with medals for all their hard work. Hard work it was indeed. My mother tells many tales of her time billeted as a 19-year-old on farms in Hertfordshire. Her many jobs included bringing the cows in and milking them, liming the cowshed walls, from which her hands became so raw they bled, sowing potatoes, digging them up again at harvest time, pulling cabbages and cauliflowers, stripping the land of trees and shrubs to make room for even more produce. It was back-breaking work - quite literally. She now has a severely curved spine (scoliosis) to show for it and is so riddled with arthritis, she is in constant pain. So she already has something from her Land Army Days to remind her of what she had to go through to keep the nation fed in wartime.

She had good times too. Not least, she met my dear Dad, a young refugee from Nazi Germany, whose only crime was to have had a Jewish grandmother - not far back enough in his family tree to assimilate him into the Aryan race. He and his family just managed to escape to Britain in 1939 just before the war broke out. Because of his origins, he was first interned on the Isle of Man while his background was checked (to prove he was not a German spy) and then put on the land along with the Conscientious Objectors, to pull down trees and plough the land. He was pulling down a tree with a chain and tractor, when my mum quite literally tripped over the chain and fell into his path. The rest, as they say, is history. Their love for one another remained strong until the day he died 7 years ago.

Now she has a medal too. So wear it with pride, Mum. You worked so hard to protect this country during the war and keep it fed. Your disabilities now are just as deserving of that medal as if you had been wounded on the front. I suspect the medal will mean a whole lot more to you, than defra will ever know. Better late than never.

25 July 2008

Bursting the bubble

I am sorry I have digressed from my story to write a few posts about the present day. It seems a shame not to record some current things as they happen, but of course it does interrupt the story I originally set out to tell. I left off at the point "On the Mend" where Greg had been discharged from hospital following his gastric ulcer bleed and emergency detox. He was at that point cured of the alcohol addiction and the other ailments that led him into hospital. That was in November 2006, some eighteen months or so ago.The story continues.....

Of course, the idyll was not to last. The first thing Greg did was to remove his name from the
waiting list for rehab. Although rehab should follow on from detox (see my previous references) and would get at the root of why someone drinks and help with preventative coping measures, Greg did not think he could cope with being away from home for six months and also having to share a room with a stranger (which is apparently part of the procedure). He said he would prefer to have counselling on a weekly basis from home. Greg had found four weeks in hospital bad enough and sharing his life with the medical staff and other people on the ward. Surprisingly enough, he said the thing he would miss most about being away from home would be the computer and not being able to check his bank account online and receive/send emails. (Not a word about missing me or Kay or the dog, you notice!!)

Secondly, he went around asking every doctor or nurse he came into contact with
within about a month of being home (GP, liver consultant, heart consultant, diabetic nurse) , whether the "occasional" glass of wine would be all right for him to drink. He couched it by saying that, what with the Christmas and New Year season coming up, if he were to be at a party, could he accept a glass of wine or not. The standard reply was that it would not be a good idea, given that he was an alcoholic. But not content with that answer, he would then rephrase the question or ask someone else, until one day he got the answer he wanted...."in theory one glass would not physically harm your liver, but.....". He ignored the "but" and concentrated on the fact that it would not harm his liver if he had an occasional drink. He claimed he was now out of danger and that he was in the same boat as anyone else fancying a drink. Two glasses of red wine a day would be his absolute limit. He was also encouraged by the fact that a recent blood test revealed his liver had now miraculously totally recovered and was back to normal again with no permanent damage whatsoever. Even our GP was completely dumbstruck and couldn't believe that it was scientifically possible, but the results were there in black and white. His liver had totally recovered. He did not drink every day, so I wanted to believe that maybe he was going to be all right. But there were also days, when I would discover him in the garage sitting on an upturned box having a sly drink and when I confronted him about it, he said he was only doing it secretly because he knew I would get angry. Occasionally I would fancy a glass of wine myself, as you sometimes do, but I had held back from bringing any alcohol into the house, as I thought it would only rub his face in it and tempt him. I resented it that I was being condemned to an alcohol-free existence to spare him, even though I was the one enforcing it.

Meanwhile, Greg began to see a woman counsellor for one hour a week at the Alcoholic Advisory Service. So far as I could see she just sat and listened to him while he did all the talking (he is good at talking), but she offered little in practical terms to dissuade him from what he was thinking or doing. She was just a medium for him to empty out his soul.

In the mid-summer of 2007, Greg organised a solo camping trip to visit his best friend. He could have stayed nearby with my mother in comfort, but he insisted on camping. First the camp-site would be nearer to the town where his friend lives and secondly he could come and go without disturbing my mother.
He could have stayed with his friend but I think he felt he did not want to impose on them. I was pleased that he was taking up interests, wanting to see friends and also dealing with some of the backlog of things that needed attention in the house, so I encouraged him to visit his friend and thought the camping trip would help him relax and give him some stimulus. A few weeks later, he had to go to the same friend's mother's funeral up in his home town. He again decided to take the tent and camp up there rather than stay with his sister Jill or his own mother. His reasoning was that he had the freedom to come and go without disturbing any of them and in any case he wanted to see if the tent was still watertight and try it out again. Much later after these two camping trips, his sister, Jill, reported to me that she had visited him on the camp-site and found a different bottle of wine stashed away every time she saw him,so she knew he was back to drinking more than "just a glass" again. I also discovered that apparently, after the funeral, there had been a gathering of the mourners at a village pub, so Greg had been surrounded by the stuff. Have you noticed too how every soap drama on TV has a pub at its central storyline and in other dramas the characters are drinking at some point or other. It was staring him in the face every way he turned. He was also getting invitations from old work colleagues to meet up and have reunions, in a pub - naturally. I knew it was going to be hard for him to say no to a beer or glass of wine. I dreaded him going. When he came home from these reunions he was always a bit worse for wear. I knew we were sitting on a time bomb. My mind started to go back to that day about eight years ago now, when a neighbour had approached me about Greg's drinking. I thought of her more and more. She must have been a clairvoyant to see what I could not see then. I had thought so badly of her at the time. Now I wished I could find her to apologise.

23 July 2008


Wish you were here?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Kay is here today.

How I envy her.

22 July 2008

Where is Kay?

I am pondering where Kay is right this minute. With no phone contact at all, I am left with just a sketchy written itinerary of where she will be on any given day. It does not even tell me whether she is sleeping comfortably in a hostel bed or surrounded by malaria-ridden mosquitoes in a tent. How ever did we manage before mobile/cell phones? I suppose my mother could tell me how she coped in 1960 when I went off into the sunset on a two-week primary school trip to deepest Devon with only snail-mail as contact. The teachers stood over us making sure we wrote our letters home dutifully telling our parents what we had for tea and sending our love. With the advent of mobile phones, we have been spoiled. We can usually reach our children with the push of a keypad and know that they are safe or what they are doing. So right now I am going stir-crazy with a vivid imagination. All I know is that yesterday she climbed this

Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

in a thunderstorm (according to the weather forecast for that region.) Thanks to the internet, I can call up pictures of the place, the weather, the satellite shots and all. So I am not completely in the dark. Furthermore, Wikipedia and other websites will give me even more information that I actually don't want to know. For example, they say that this particular volcano still regularly spits molten lava over its sides and care has to be taken by tourists when walking over it, as their shoes can melt!! They also quote the whole region as being prone to armed gun attacks on tourists, though that has subsided a bit (a bit?), because tourists now take armed guards with them (what?). Now, call me a worry-guts, but I am now chewing my fingernails down to the knuckles. If the molten lava doesn't kill her, a stray lightening bolt or an errant bullet will. That's assuming a rabid jaguar hasn't got there first. Who'd be a mum?

19 July 2008

On expedition

Yesterday I said goodbye to Kay for a month. She is off on an expedition to Central America - a month-long trek through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico - struggling up live volcanoes with a 20 kilogram backpack, trekking through tropical rainforests, clambering over Mayan ruins.

Mayan ruins

She is going with fifteen schoolfriends, two teachers and the expedition leader (who is employed by the organisation they are travelling with). It is a bit like the Duke of Edinburgh award only more demanding. The "rules" of the project have dictated that Kay has had to finance some of the trip herself, so for part of this exam-stressed year she has also been holding down a part-time supermarket job to earn the money- with what it cost, I reckon it would have been enough instead to buy a set of driving lessons and a second-hand car thrown in. I have also been beavering away, selling superfluous household stuff (old toys, clothes too small, ornaments never used) on ebay to help raise the funds. There has been babysitting, cake sales at school, sponsored fun runs and car-washing done by all the girls involved to raise more for the group fund. Kay has collaborated with her friends to work out the route, the sort of community work they will undertake once there (choices ranging from painting an orphanage or school to preserving dwindling numbers of loggerhead turtles) and how to manage the budget that they will need to live on. The teachers are purely there to ensure safety but will otherwise take a back seat. All decisions on the route, the transport, the food and the guides they take on along the way are down to the girls who will take it in turn daily to lead the group or be part of the team. It will be exciting, but full of risk and often exhausting. They will sleep in their quickly assembled tents in the jungle or in hostels when in towns. In an emergency they have a special piece of equipment that will alert an RAF station in the North of Scotland, so that arrangements can be made for helicopters to be scrambled.

She has looked forward to it for months, but just this last week she has been getting increasingly nervous and tearful, dreading the fact that she will be away from me for a whole month and more importantly out of mobile phone contact too ( they were told not to take mobile phones as there is nowhere to charge the phone up in the jungle and that is assuming you even get a signal at all). As yesterday drew nearer, she became paler and sicker, unable to swallow anything but the smallest glass of water. She was just worried she might get homesick and be all those hundreds of miles from home and away from civilisation, with only tarantulas and leeches to comfort her. Yet she still wanted to go as it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She has only just turned 17 and is the baby of the group, whereas most of her friends are soon to turn 18 in a month or two. I had to harden my heart, put on a big smile from ear to ear and tell her she would be fine.... once she was out there, she would have a great time with her friends and either be so tired (from all the daily trekking carting their homes on their back) or ecstatic from what they were seeing, that she would not have time to even think of home. Once we had hugged our tearful goodbye, I stole back to the car alone and blubbered all the way home.

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Guatemalan rainforest

16 July 2008

It's a dog's life - the dog fraternity

My average weekday starts by checking Kay's alarm has gone off and that she has managed to prise her eyes open enough to sit up and even get up out of bed. Once she is breakfasted and out heading for the bus for school, I am able to devote some quality time to the dog. Everyone in the house gets some of my quality time (even the cat, when she is allowed to sit on my lap for a 5-minute cuddle and head massage). I always give Snoopy his main walk first thing in the morning, so that I have the rest of the day to plan out and deal with whatever else needs doing. Because there is usually so much to do, I act like an automaton and go through my lists of things to do, things to chase , cheques to write, shopping to get. Without my routine, things would really fall apart in the Alcoholic Daze household. Anyway, back to the dog. He follows me around the house in great expectation of woodland smells or park playmates, afraid that if he takes his eyes off me for a second, I shall dart through the front door without him and go for a long squirrel-hunt on my own. If I prepare the doggy bag - the special bag I take full of biscuit treats and poop bags - he knows it's definitely happening and by now he is prancing around at my feet, tail a-wagging, almost with a big grin on his face. On goes his lead, we jump into the car and head for the park before 8.15am.

Through this daily ritual, I have come to know a very good friend. An elderly lady called Shirley, a retired school-teacher, who walks her dog in the park at the very same time as me. Both her dog and mine are good friends too. Her dog distrusts all other dogs and for some reason will only allow Snoopy to nuzzle her, cavort with her and sniff her rear end. Any other dog even attempting to do any of those things gets the sharp end of her very sharp teeth in their flesh with a snarl and a snap to boot. Shirley and I spend many an early morning walking the circuit of the park together and putting the world to rights, while the dogs run figures of eight around us. She does not know about Greg's real condition of course. She is one of those to whom I tell the abridged version. Shirley is a mine of information, being an ex-school-teacher, I suppose, and I enjoy her company. It is the only real time I have to get out of the house and be among normal people. My two closest friends live some considerable way away and although we email regularly, we only get to meet about once a year (see my post Best Friends.)

Sometimes Shirley is not in the park, or I arrive a bit later than usual, but I still enjoy the walk on my own in the early morning quiet. Our very large park has some beautiful trees, lovely woodland dells where you can feel as if you are the only person in the world and be at one with


nature. It also has a fairly large lake with a good selection of ducks, geese and swans, whose antics never fail to amuse. There are large herbaceous borders too with different species of plants carefully tended by the park gardeners. Then there is the children's playground, often a haven for the local comprehensive schoolboys who make a detour on their way to school and hurl themselves about on the swings and roundabouts, hoping that they will be transported into another realm where they will not have to go to school. There is something for everyone in the park. I can take my problems here and have them solved - at least in my head - before I am leaving the park gates again. I can close my eyes and pretend I am not in a big city but in the middle of the countryside. It is my little piece of heaven.

Living in London, or I imagine in any big city the world over, people tend to be very aloof. You do not just talk to anyone. You have to know them really well to even get a nod out of someone. Even neighbours can co-exist without really knowing first names. You pass people on the street or in shops, on the train or even in a lift and not a single word is uttered. Eyes are averted. You hope you can pass by without the silence being an embarrassment. But get a dog and suddenly the ice melts. Complete strangers will pass you in the street or in the park and if you both have a dog, the very least you will get is a "Good Morning", as each person and their canine partner go their opposite ways. More often than not, the dogs will intertwine, sniff or play the chase game, whereupon the owners will engage in conversation about what breeds the dogs are, how old they are, what their idiosyncrasies are. Before you know it, you have heard about the owner's operations, their love lives and any number of intimate details. You do not get this amount of openness and friendliness if you are pushing a pram with a cute baby poking out of it. I know. I've done that and got the cold-shoulder. Often, usually in the most deserted, darkest piece of woodland I might come face to face with a lone man. In this day and age, the first automatic instinct is to feel slightly anxious that you may not be safe. But as soon as his dog appears from behind a shrub, the situation changes and you stop, chat and end up waving goodbye to one another, having swapped another life history!! Isn't life funny?

14 July 2008

Kay's 17th Birthday

Kay is 17 today. She really wanted to celebrate by inviting a lot of friends round to the house tonight to watch films and have a girlie chat. But how can you do that with a drunk father in the house? We had considered other alternative ways of celebrating, such as a meal in a favourite restaurant or a group visit to a cinema or ten-pin bowling, but they all proved rather costly given that there would be at least twelve of them altogether. Not to mention that even if I did fork out for twelve restaurant covers or twelve cinema seats or twelve bowling games, that would only provide entertainment for an hour or so and the girls would still be looking for something else to do after that. To make a whole evening of it. In the end, we had to make Greg promise under duress that he would stay upstairs in the bedroom for the entire duration of the "party" and not appear once to embarrass Kay in front of her friends. He has said he will, but our hearts are in our mouths in case he wanders down nevertheless in his dishevelled state to see the celebrations. He will say he will not do something and then do it anyway. I feel awful that Kay cannot invite friends round without worrying what he will do. I also feel equally awful that we are having to ban Greg from participating in the birthday celebrations, but he has brought it on himself.

Onto a different subject altogether, I have been nominated for the Arte Y Pico Award by the lovely Dulwich Divorcee. Having snapped my high heels just as I was about to go on stage, I had to hobble around for a day or two before I could accept the award (in other words I could not work out how to transfer the image to my site without some little pop-up telling me it was an illegal image!!) But a big thank you to DD for suggesting little old me. I shall wear my badge with pride. The rules dictate that I must now nominate five others to whom I think plaudits are forthcoming.

These are in no particular order but all in my opinion deserve it equally. My first is to Stinking Billy without whom I would never have been encouraged to start blogging in the first place. I bet he wishes he hadn't asked now!! He has managed for the best part to keep up a daily contribution (quite some record) to the blogging world on all manner of subjects. He always manages to cheer me up, but he has a serious side too and his devotion to his family is without doubt. My next is to Crystal Jigsaw. She comes across as a lovely person, mother and farmer's wife. She writes eloquently and has a wonderful knack of making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end whenever she relates to the spirit world she shares her farmhouse with. My third is to Big Blue Barn West. Aims writes such a gripping true story with a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. She also comes across as a very genuinely kind person and always ready to help. She has attracted a wide spread of supporters. My next is to Reluctant Memsahib for her tales of life in Tanzania in an outpost. Her stories and pictures very much bring that part of the world to life. My final award goes to Fern's Lakeland Blog for bringing such beautiful photos and views of a favourite part of England into my concrete London jungle.

I would nominate Dulwich Divorcee too but, she already has the award and in any case she nominated me! Likewise Goodbye to all fat . There are many more I could mention whose lives I have dipped into, but I would need to go on all day and night listing them! It only remains for me to burst into tears and to thank my agent, my producer etc etc, not to forget my husband, without whom all this would not be possible, and my lovely daughter. And now I shall stumble off stage.....hic.

10 July 2008


Today is our 32nd wedding anniversary. Interestingly enough, Greg did not remember and , although I had thought about it earlier on in the week, I totally forgot about it myself until an hour ago, when I suddenly remembered again. Kay and I had been on another day trip to a university open day, so we had been rather distracted. It goes without saying there will be no celebration this year!

09 July 2008

On the mend

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.

07 July 2008

Ebbing Away

The ambulance came within minutes of my 999 call. There were three paramedics in total - two in the ambulance and one who had come on ahead in a car. Snoopy was barking his head off at the strangers and it woke the children who came drowsily out of their beds to find the cause of the noise. Before the ambulance crew had arrived, I had already woken and warned my sister-in-law about what had happened. She had set to, washing the blood off Greg (as I have said before, she is an ex-nurse), while I hastily got dressed, because I instinctively guessed I would need to go with him to a hospital. I thank God Jill was by chance with me on that night of all nights, as I am certain I would have not been able to cope single-handedly with the situation.

When I led the ambulance crew into the bedroom, they were clearly shocked to see what had happened. They did all sorts of necessary tests and asked questions within a very quick time scale and then said they would take him to our nearest Accident and Emergency Department. As they were transferring Greg by stretcher into the ambulance, Greg pulled me closer to him and whispered in German, so nobody else would understand, that he wanted me to bring the bottle of whisky with me to the hospital. I should put it in his bag of belongings which I had hastily packed while the paramedics were initially dealing with him. Even in that dire condition, he was still terrified of getting withdrawal symptoms and wanted to ensure he had the whisky close to him. I was of two minds what to do, but thought it best to take it with me and then make the decision once I was at the hospital.

I followed the ambulance in my car through the dark, ghostly-quiet streets of London. It was by now about 4.30am and London had not really got going for the day. I left poor Jill and the children behind with the unenviable task of clearing up the mess in the bedroom. At one stage, the ambulance pulled over to the side of the road and I pulled over behind them, not knowing whether they might get out or whether I should. In the few minutes that I deliberated what to do,
I wondered whether he was slipping away and whether they were trying to resuscitate him. I never did find out why they stopped, but after a few minutes they carried on again in the direction of the hospital with me following only a few yards behind. We arrived at A&E at around 5 am and I found somewhere to park the car while the paramedics took him into the building. Once inside, I noticed there was hardly anyone there and we were the only ones in the queue. Most patients had either long been dealt with and sent home or were comfortable in their cubicles awaiting results -except for one woman wailing loudly and almost rhythmically in the cubicle directly next to us, which gave the whole scene a sense of eeriness. Greg was immediately tested for blood pressure which was ridiculously low, because of the amount of blood he had lost, so much so that the modern digital machines could not test for it and he had to be measured with an old-fashioned cuff. The reading was 56 over 31. The staff were clearly quite worried about that reading and were trying to raise it. They were also asking me a lot of questions about the blood and asking whether he had vomited any or whether it was from his bowels. So crucial was this information that they asked me the same question several times over several hours. I assured them he had not vomited anything. They took blood tests and they catheterised him to help raise the blood pressure which eventually went up to 92 over 77. His haemoglobin (red blood cell) level was 6.9 when apparently in healthy men it should be between 12 and 14, so they decided immediately to give him four pints of blood in a transfusion. Eventually there were three doctors and one nurse all buzzing around his bed. The doctors would then go away and discuss the case, then come back again, then go away. At one stage the consultant also came past and did a quick examination before they all went into a huddle again. Greg meanwhile kept saying he wanted to nip out and have a cigarette. He could barely raise his head off the pillow let alone sit up or stand up. I couldn't believe he was thinking of smoking at such a time. Naturally, they refused him. Greg asked again, offering to take me with him as a physical support, but still they refused. With that low blood pressure, they said, he was going nowhere. Later on, during a quiet moment together, he asked me to pass him the bottle of whisky and, for once, I refused. My thoughts were that if he did have a withdrawal crisis, at least he was in the right place. Greg did keep falling in and out of sleep while he lay on the trolley, so that helped to take his mind off the cigarettes and the whisky. Eventually, the doctors were able to confirm that Greg had had a gastric ulcer bleed (nothing to do with oesophageal varices, thank God) and that he would need to go up to the theatre for a gastroscopy later that day. Meanwhile they would start to give him medication to wean him off the alcohol. At last I felt we were getting somewhere.

I went home to give the good news to Jill and Kay who had been slaving away in my absence cleaning blood off the bed clothes and the carpet in the bedroom and bathroom. We were all exhausted but nevertheless slightly relieved that our prayers had been answered and that at last something positive was now happening. Twelve hours ago, things had looked so bleak. Now there was hope. In the late afternoon, we all headed off to the hospital, convinced that by now Greg would have undergone surgery on the gastric ulcer. When we arrived on his ward, we discovered he had not had surgery at all. It turned out that the earlier blood tests had also shown he had had a mild heart attack whilst in A&E, brought on by the sudden drop in blood pressure. Some enzymes normally present in the blood directly after a heart attack had shown up in the samples. On that basis the doctors were not happy to proceed with the gastroscopy surgery. They decided to let the heart rest and monitor it, simultaneously treating the gastric ulcer with medication. The gastroscopy would be done much later once the heart had had a chance to recover. Jill returned home that evening with her children, and Kay and I began to pick up the pieces. Greg meanwhile was transferred to the Coronary Care Unit.

02 July 2008


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.