30 September 2009

Death and Life

What a busy 24 hours I've had. Yesterday I rushed down to Brighton for my friend's husband's funeral and arrived by train to discover hoards of policeman and sniffer dogs wandering around the concourse. I pondered whether they were diet police and knew I had two chocolate bars about my person, but then the taxi driver on the way to the church told me that Gordon was giving his speech within the hour and it was extra security laid on for his arrival. The funeral was the nicest I have ever been to (if you can say such a thing). There were at least a hundred and fifty people there, some having travelled for the day from as far afield as Paris and Geneva. There was a traditional service bit, a break while the immediate family departed for the crematorium for the committal) then a two-hour celebration of his life with speeches from those involved in all aspects of his life. It was very moving. It was good to see my two best friends, one being the widow, though sadly we did not have much time for a chat.

This morning I was back at the hospital, where I seem to be spending most of my time this week, to meet the social worker who sold me down the river last year. She has been brought in to discuss Greg's latest condition and what help/back-up Social Services can provide. I have told her I cannot cope any more, am at the end of my tether and really need either back-up from support workers at home, if I decide to stay and care for him, or a cast of a thousand to care for him if I decide to leave. She is looking into this for me. Don't hold your breath. Meanwhile Greg is demanding to be sent home NOW, even though he can barely walk across the room and is shaking like a jelly from withdrawal. At least he is on medication to get him off the alcohol (again), though he asked me to smuggle some in for him yesterday. My answer was unprintable.

27 September 2009

Here we go again

Three guesses where I spent my Saturday evening? Having a romantic meal? No. Bopping away at the nightclub down the road? No. Being serenaded by Richard Gere on a gondola? No....fat chance! Sorry your three guesses are up. I spent Saturday evening in Accident and Emergency at the local hospital.

Over the last few months, Greg has been having increasing difficulty walking , his feet have puffed up to the size of party balloons over the last few weeks and despite my nagging (his words by the way - mine would be more along the lines of advising) him to go to the doctor, he has shown no sign of doing so. The circulation to his legs is damaged by smoking and the nerve supply in his legs is damaged by diabetes. More and more over the last few weeks, as I had reported, his appetite had gone altogether, his hygiene had completely gone to seed and he had not bothered to dress or do anything. He had been incontinent several times and I had had to clear up the mess.

Yesterday afternoon he tried to get up the stairs to lie down and his legs just crumpled beneath him. He had no strength in his legs whatsoever to stand or even sit on the stairs. He looked akin to a mermaid (or should that be merman?) trying to writhe up the stairs using the top half of his body but dragging the useless bottom half behind him. He barked at me to help him up the stairs, but as I tried to get him to stand, so his legs crumpled beneath him again. Then he tried to crawl on all fours but again his legs would not do the work. After several attempts over a period of half an hour, when I seemed to be getting the blame for his inability to get up the stairs, I could see we were getting nowhere and I said I was going to phone for an ambulance. He begged me not to (he hates hospitals with a passion and is too curmudgeonly to do what he is told by the nurses and doctors) but I was having none of it. So I called an ambulance and he was whisked to the nearest hospital, with me following on behind in the car. After a three-hour wait, during which Greg moaned about the long wait and complained that I had over-reacted and that he could have got up the stairs if only I had supported him a bit more, we finally saw a doctor who did all sorts of tests to evaluate his mobility and reflexes. Then she ordered some blood tests and the long and short of it was that they admitted him overnight to do some more mobility tests in the morning. My sister-in-law commented "thank goodness it wasn't last weekend when you were taking Kay up to university".

Meanwhile the blood results show that his liver values are sky-high. Surprise surprise!

23 September 2009

Testing times

I don't mean to keep on whining, because I know everyone has their share of problems, but I'm having a tough time of things at the moment.

1. Kay is up at university and I would be quite happy to cope with the empty nest syndrome if it weren't for the fact that she is finding it hard to settle. I have received quite a few tearful phone calls from her over the last few days which in turn have unsettled me. It seems the people she is sharing a flat with are quite heavy party animals and have been out every night since they all arrived on Saturday boozing till 3 AM. Although Kay enjoys a vodka or two, she is obviously not keen to follow in her father's footsteps and cannot see the point in being completely legless or throwing up by the roadside. She prefers to pace her drinks and be relaxed and enjoy the evening. They also seem to have come with quite a few of their mates from school, whereas Kay had no choice in which university she went to (because of the competition I mentioned
here) and so has not gone where any of her school friends are. She has just rang me again in tears. Last night she had not gone out with them as she needed to be in university today to meet her lecturers and tutors for the first time, and attend lectures. She therefore needed a clear head. Her flatmates came crawling home at 3am and were shouting and yelling in party-mood, which woke her and she could not get back to sleep again after that. All she keeps saying is that she feels so tired and misses home and her friends, but she does not want to seek pastoral advice from anyone at the university for fear she will look bad in her flatmates eyes. Frankly I really don't know what to do and I am really worried about her.

2. I have two very close friends from my university days and the husband of one of them has just died suddenly. He has had back pain for a few months and at first was being treated for sciatica and then a kidney infection. The pain did not go away, though, and he only found out about six weeks ago that he had spinal cancer. About a month ago, he had a quick course of radiotherapy which rendered him paralysed and he died ten days ago. It has all happened so fast, we are still reeling from the shock. I am going to his funeral next week. It is not going to be easy.
He was a tall cuddly bear of a man, a gentle giant, a gentleman, a leading light in his field of expertise. It does not seem possible this could happen so quickly.

3. In an attempt to cheer myself up this morning, I went into our nearest shopping centre for a bit of retail therapy. But I felt as if I was walking in a bubble and all I could see was Kay and I walking there last week getting the last-minute bits and pieces for uni. I did not enjoy it one bit and decided to come home, quickly nipping into a supermarket on the way to grab a couple of whisky bottles for Greg. One slipped through my hand and I ended up with glass and whisky in a pool all around my feet. Fortunately the supermarket manager was extremely sweet and told me not to worry and an assistant miraculously appeared with mop and bucket and also told me not to worry. I felt like bursting into tears, because they were so nice.

4. On getting home, I discovered Greg had had an accident in the toilet and there was mess all over the toilet floor. He had of course not cleared it up and it was waiting for me to deal with.
(He seems to be getting more and more incontinent at the moment, both with urine and faeces. Because he cannot walk very well, he seems to get the message too late to get to the toilet in time.) My washing machine is working overtime. I have become a carer and am no longer a wife - in all senses of the word.

Sometimes life sucks.

22 September 2009

Empty Nest Syndrome

On Saturday I took Kay up to university.
The house is empty now - without her.
Void of her laughter, her clothes, her self.
It's horrible.

14 September 2009


Many people ask why I have stayed so long and put up with Greg's alcoholism. Like with many things involving emotions, it is not an easy question to answer. To start with, we have been married for nearly 34 years and in addition were together five years before that, so that is a heck of a long time invested in one another. The alcoholism only started 6 years ago when Greg took early retirement because of heart disease and the diminishing ability to commute to work. The previous 28 married years had been a normal reasonably happily married relationship.

When the alcoholism started, it was uncharacteristic and I had hoped it was a minor blip which would right itself. By the time the penny dropped that there was no quick fix and this was not going to get better, the thought of leaving him was at the time out of the question. You know how it is, if you have teenage kids, you want things to be consistent for them, particularly with important exams looming on the horizon. You don't want to upset the apple cart. The problem is that the alcoholism does not make for a peaceful life anyway, so you are damned if you leave and damned if you don't. [All credit to Kay that she managed to survive the shellfire and do as marvellously in her exams as she did.]

With each detox or hospital emergency (which ultimately led to yet another detox), I hoped that this time it would work, but inevitably Greg would return to drinking again, fooling himself and me that the occasional drink would be OK. Unfortunately I was to learn that an alcoholic cannot dice with alcohol in that way. It's all or nothing. No grey area at all. One drink leads to another and another and in the end it spirals out of control again. I admit that I had high hopes just before the first detox. When that failed, my expectations became less and less with the subsequent ones. The statistics speak volumes...apparently only 1 in 10 alcoholics manage to overcome their alcoholism.

Another thing, I suppose, is that I come from a family where marriage is sacrosanct. My parents were ecstatically married for over fifty years before leukaemia tore my father from my mother. [My mother has still not got over her grief some eight years later and says goodnight to his photo on her bedside every night.] I thought I was equally blessed in my marriage as things were fine up until 6 years ago. To give up and walk out on the marriage just because of the alcoholism seemed cowardice. I suppose too, I have always liked a challenge and I thought I could beat this black shadow that had crept over our family. Unfortunately, though, it has since shown me who is boss. One thing is for sure, the whole experience has made me a stronger person than before. I have achieved things and endured things I would have thought were not humanly possible.

Early on in Greg's alcoholism, an emergency doctor once told him that if he stopped drinking abruptly, he would suffer horrendous withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations, fits and tremors. That frightened Greg so much that he would turn to drink as soon as he woke in the morning, for fear he would start off the withdrawal process . Ironically the very thing that made Greg feel ill in the morning was the very thing he needed to feel better. He would wake retching, feeling nauseous, shaking. But after a couple of stiff drinks for breakfast, he would begin to feel better and the day would continue with bouts of sleep and renewed drinking to keep up the alcohol levels to avoid withdrawal. This deep-seated fear has now made him alcohol-dependent and his lack of willpower has meant that he is unable to reduce gradually, as the doctors all advise. I have seen this fear in him and witnessed him reduced to tears when he feels he wants to stop but knows he just dare not. I have oscillated between feeling sorry for him, because he was not always like this, and being extremely angry about what he has put the whole family through.

There comes a point in this cycle between the detoxes, when Greg is no longer able to buy his own supplies. This is at the point when he is usually drinking a full bottle a day, his health has deteriorated and he is not eating at all because the alcohol suppresses the appetite. He becomes physically weak and mentally incapable. I have therefore been the one to buy his whisky supplies when it gets to that stage where he can no longer get out on his own. The one alternative is that he goes without alcohol (which, as I have mentioned above, he cannot for the reasons of withdrawal) or the other alternative is that he drives to get it himself. I would rather have it on my conscience that I am enabling him to drink by buying the stuff for him than risk him running someone over with his car if he gets it himself. Of course I would rather not have either option, but the fear he has (and, if I am honest, I have too) of the withdrawal symptoms is too strong a threat to ignore. We are both caught up in this addiction for different reasons. Him because he needs that alcohol in his system and me because I know if he doesn't get it, it will tear him apart. I am however the only one between us who seems to understand that it will eventually kill him. He seems to think he can outwit it. I am resigned to the fact that he will never manage it. His health has suffered too much already and each time he detoxes he does not bounce back so easily and his liver and brain suffer that little bit more. I know it is killing him. Also I am aware that, if I should decide to leave him, he would not be able to cope and would inevitably be alone in an emergency and possibly die alone. Not exactly a nice thought for any of us to contemplate, whether we are alcoholics or not. Strange as it may seem, I certainly still care enough to feel guilty about this.

Shortly Kay is about to embark on a new chapter in her life and will be leaving home for exciting adventures at university. I then have some tough decisions to make.

11 September 2009

Analysis of the situation so far

Here are some key facts about Greg's current situation:

Health - he has heart disease, diabetes, circulatory problems in legs and feet, liver damage, slight brain damage; he forgets to take medication (or refuses to take it when I provide it), drinks one 70cl bottle of whisky per day, smokes 30-40 cigarettes daily, eats almost nothing (has no appetite).
Because of the diabetes/smoking, his circulation is poor, so his feet are purple, puffy and covered in sores.

Money spent on alcohol/cigarettes - too much to mention. Approximately £140 per week.

Hygiene - Greg does not wash himself, clean his teeth or change his clothes, in fact he has taken lately to not even bothering to dress and bums about in his dirty dressing gown all day and all night. He stinks. Any attempts on my part to get him to wash or change clothing (so I can actually get it into a washing machine or burn it) constitutes nagging.

Interests (in no particular order) - whisky, talking about anything that happened 10-40 years ago, watching History channel on TV, dozing on a dining chair.

Irritants - anyone who interrupts his monologues, anyone who dares to say anything over the television programmes he watches ( he watches from 7am till 2 am the next morning!!)

Average number of times he has been out of the house in months - nil

Last time he went for a walk anywhere - 3 months ago

Age - actual age 60, looks 80, physical ability of a 120-year-old

He is a living nightmare.

Google Library picture

01 September 2009

Burning issue

Because of the heavy alcohol dependency combined with the diabetes, Greg spends a lot of his time nodding off to sleep at various times of the day. I will often come into our kitchen/diner, where he sits all day watching TV, and find him fast asleep on a dining chair with his chin on his chest. If I leave him like this, he complains, once he wakes up, that I should not have left him like that and that I should always attempt to wake him, as otherwise he will not sleep at night. As it is, he does not go to bed much before 2 am. The trouble is, if I DO wake him, he is always irritable and shouts at me. If it is much later in the day, he also talks a lot of gobbledegook.

The other day, when I found him asleep in front of the TV, I tried to wake him and he started talking about daughters in the fridge. I asked him to explain that again and he got very annoyed, as if I should have understood the first time round. He was slurring his words, then said that he meant *details* in the fridge. What? He explained again, only more annoyed this time...the details of addresses in mobile phones should be defrosted and put in the fridge. What???? He was really shouting at me by now that I was failing to listen properly and understand him. I gave up at that point and said I was going to bed. But my heart was in my boots. I am always afraid when he is in that mental state that he might fall asleep with a cigarette still alight. It does not fill me with confidence when I turn off my bedside lamp and try to sleep.