26 February 2010

It just gets better

Greg's health has been deteriorating even further over the last month. His legs and feet are a dreadful purple colour and covered in scabs (how he gets them I just don't know but they don't heal quickly when he gets sores or scratches). It is largely caused by the diabetes. Since I returned from my mother his mobility has taken a turn for the worst. Again the diabetes/smoking is the problem as well as poor circulation. Instead of being unable to walk just a few yards unaided, he is now unable to walk a few steps unaided and finds climbing all our stairs almost impossible. He has spent the last few weeks sleeping solely on the sofa as he cannot get up to the bedroom. He has barely eaten and has not taken his medication regularly. The only thing he has continued with gusto is the drinking. He is 60 going on 120 by the look of him. Even my 86-year-old mother is in better condition (and that is saying something).

This last week in particular has seen a big change: he needed my help both to sit upright from lying down and to stand up from sitting. He seemed incapable of doing it himself. He walked holding on to furniture. He felt so ill and so fed up with the state he was in that he agreed something drastic needed to be done. .. he agreed to make an appointment with our GP for Wednesday and with some local alcoholic counsellors today to get the ball rolling for a detox.

We saw the GP on Wednesday and Greg pleaded with her to allow him a detox at home. He does not like being holed up with strangers and institutionalised regimes. She refused a home detox as it would require high levels of drugs to wean him off the alcohol and 24-hour medical supervision which he could only get in a proper detox centre. He begged, she continued to refuse, saying she would get into trouble if she even entertained the idea. She encouraged him to keep the appointment with the counsellors today to get their help for a proper detox, as they were the best people to approach. There is usually a long-waiting list for this kind of help, so our hearts sank.

Yesterday, Greg seemed a lot worse and was barely moving at all. He had had no sleep the night before as he could not get comfortable on the sofa, so tried to sleep during the morning while I crept quietly around the house, keepng out of his way. He woke at lunchtime and slowly went from sofa to kitchen chair to toilet to sofa, having to negotiate stairs at every move. I was upstairs in the late afternoon when I heard him call for the umpteenth time, probably to help him sit up or stand. What I found was him collapsed on the kitchen floor and unable to stand. I tried to heave him up but he was a dead weight. After several attempts to get him up, his next remark completely floored me: "Call for an ambulance. I feel so wretched". Long-term readers of this blog know that he hates hospitals, ambulances, any fuss, so you can imagine how surprised I was. To cut a very long story short, the paramedics arrived and took him to hospital, where he is now. I followed on behind by car.

The bottom line is that they are very concerned about his extremely low blood pressure (71 over 56 and at one stage 70 over 35) and have detected internal bleeding. Now they need to find where the bleed is coming from, but high contenders are the intestine, stomach or liver. I am not allowed to visit him as the hospital wards are closed to visitors because of an outbreak of winter vomiting virus. At least he'll get the detox he so badly needs. Sometimes God moves in mysterious ways. The hamster wheel still turns but now on a different axle.

24 February 2010

The Hamster-Wheel

Be honest. When you think of an alcoholic or drunk, what do you think of? A down-and-out tramp lying in the gutter? A menacing teenage hoodie skulking behind a wall with his umpteenth can of lager? Twenty-somethings getting plastered on a Saturday night and stumbling to the ground outside a nightclub? We all have our own idea and prejudices.

What do you think of when you see someone in front of you at the supermarket check-out with three bottles of wine on the conveyor belt? If it's tucked among fresh vegetables or salad and a lump of steak, you probably think they are going to have a nice romantic meal in, or a pleasant evening with friends. What if they had three bottles of whisky or vodka instead? Would that change your opinion? I often wonder what people think of Greg and indirectly of me. I worry anyway about what people generally think and how they judge, not to mention the whole alcohol issue. Welcome to my world.

Greg is clinically dependent on alcohol (in other words, if he does not get that regular fix of alcohol, he will get the shakes and hallucinations at best, or go into a coma or have a seizure at worst). Any attempts to come off alcohol would have to be done slowly and under medical supervision such as in hospital or at a detox centre. This is something Greg has gone through several times in the past five years but always inevitably lapsed back to drinking again. Greg WANTS to stop drinking, but the reality is that the drinking does not want to stop him. When he is in the grip of his addiction, it costs too much effort to even think about stopping, too much effort to reduce even by one glass. The addiction is like a continual loop. Drink-sleep-drink-sleep-drink-sleep. With every waking, the fear of withdrawal is the only motivation that drives him to keep on drinking. He is like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. He finds it hard to jump off. He needs that fix.

I have explained before that I have become the procurer of Greg's poison. I enable his drinking. That doesn't sit easy with some people. Or with me for that matter. What? I moan about him drinking yet I buy it for him? What? Hide it around the house when I go away? Organisations like Al-Anon would say that it is best left for him to make his own mistakes. But real life does not always fit into perfect rules and patterns. Greg's health was already bad when his drinking started to spiral out of control six years ago. With heart trouble, poor blood and nerve supply in his legs and diabetes to name but a few complaints, he is now no longer able to walk more than a few yards unaided. Stairs (of which we have a lot in our house) defeat him. Up until fairly recently, he did used to drink/drive but recently his conscience finally got through to him. That and the recent discovery of a consultant at one of his hospital appointments that he was inebriated and driving a car at 10.30 in the morning. His car was temporarily impounded in the hospital car park: he has not driven since. Without me to drive him anywhere he is housebound. Remember, he cannot walk even to the front gate let alone to the nearest shop half a mile away as an alternative. So what am supposed to do ? Do I refuse to buy it for him, watch him go into a coma or hold his hand while he hallucinates? He is terrified of the thought of it and so am I. Supervised detoxes have already been attempted several times and failed. Medics and professionals throw up their hands and throw in the towel. They don't want to know any more. Who can blame them? Alcoholism is a drain on limited NHS resources. We are on our own with this problem and sometimes you have to take the least line of resistence to cope with it.

And so I find myself as much affected by the alcohol as Greg. Each day I too am on that hamster wheel. I have to ensure there are adequate supplies to fuel his addiction. I am ashamed of what I do. It does not sit easy with me. I am enabling him to drink. But the fact of the matter is that he cannot get it himself and he cannot forego it without dire consequences. Because Greg drinks a bottle of whisky a day, I usually buy two or three bottles at a time, several times a week. If I go away to my mother for a week or two, I buy 7 or 14 bottles at a time. Consequently, you can imagine, I stand out a mile from other shoppers and particularly if I were to keep on using the same shop week in, week out. So, each time I go out to get supplies, I consciously try to vary the supermarket or shop I get it from, so that I do not frequent the same place and become conspicuous. Even so, I can't bear the looks from people in the queue in front of me and behind me. I can feel their stares boring through my head. "look at all that whisky she's buying. I bet she's a right bored housewife." I feel myself like the traveller nonchalently walking through Customs with nothing to declare but feeling guilty as sin anyway. I feel the compulsion to let the check-out girl somehow know that I am sober, in control of my money, not slurring my words and can push a trolley in a straight line! The fact is I hate the whisky runs and want to curl up and die. Sometimes I try to put a brave face on it. How do they know that I am not making a wedding cake and am using the whisky to soak the dried fruit? How do they know I am not living abroad in some far-flung outpost and am taking a year's supply out with me? How do they know I am not running a small hotel and the whisky is for the guests? I try to be blase about it and pretend that buying three bottles of whisky in one go is a perfectly normal thing to do. Only I know that I shall be doing the same thing again two or three days later.

This morning. Greg asked me to bring some whisky back with me, when I went out. At the supermarket, I gingerly put three bottles on the conveyor belt. To be honest I was not in one of my confident moods today. I was flicking glances as usual behind me to make sure there were no neighbours or people I know in the vicinity. As the check-out woman started to run the items through the laser-reader, she picked up the second of the three bottles and said jokingly "Oh my goodness, things aren't THAT bad are they?" I froze like a rabbit caught in the headlights. All I could think of as a lame reply was "oh yes they are!" She thought I was joking. She was not to know I was not! Would she have commented if I had had three tins of beans or three packets of orange juice? I scrabbled together my shopping, paid the bill and rushed out of the supermarket, choking back the tears. I really do not want to do this any more. I really don't. This hamster has had more than enough.

18 February 2010

I Just Called To Say I Love You

Forget me not

I heard some shocking news on my dog-walk in the park yesterday. Two weeks ago, a local girl deliberately jumped in front of a commuter train and killed herself. She was 18 years old and had been in the same kindergarten class as Kay. Although Kay changed at the age of 5 to another school for her infant and junior years, we would occasionally bump into this girl around the locality and swap news. Her mother walked her dog in the same park as me and, when our arrivals coincided on rare occasions, we would stop and chat about our girls - both only-children, both bright and clever, both our pride and joy. The story goes that the girl was being bullied at her London university and had just been dumped by her boyfriend. The results of the inquest are still to come.

I hate to think she had nobody to turn to and was so desperate. She was still living at home too. The news is haunting me. It keeps rolling around in large technicolour pictures in my mind, when I make a cup of tea, sit at the computer or walk the dog. The thoughts won't go away. They remind me how tenuous life can be and why we should never stop telling our children (even when they tower above us, however old and grey they get, and despite all the daily chores that pre-occupy us) that we are always there for them in times of trouble and love them very much, no matter what they do or don't do.

16 February 2010

To BT or not to BT

Well, I am back again from my "holiday", though things did not go entirely according to plan. At my mother's, I was supposed to i) get broadband set up, ii) meet up with my best friends for a reunion and iii) have a relaxing time (well relatively) away from Alcoholic Daze Towers. Well how many of those do you think I achieved successfully?

Let's take i) to get broadband set up. I had decided that, given the infrequency and varying duration of my visits to my mother, setting up a permanent broadband hub was not worth the monthly cost and I decided/was advised that a pay-as-you-go dongle was a better option. As our home broadband is provided by British Telecom, I decided to get the dongle from them too, but dealing with a large company is never straightforward.

Since Christmas we had already been having problems with BT, as they also supply our freeview TV channel system (BT Vision). The TV had been playing up and and we had arranged for a BT engineer to call. The appointment was made a whole week in advance but the engineer did not turn up. We rang BT and were told the order for him to visit had not gone through to the right department. We were promised the order would now definitely go through but we had to wait another week. When that appointment was due the engineer again did not turn up (surprise, surprise)and again we were told the order had not gone through to the right department (yawn). What is it with these large orgnisations? Is there some huge switchboard centre somewhere just swallowing up orders or throwing them in the virtual waste bin? Anyway, third time lucky an engineer did come eventually and sort out the TV problem.

When I subsequently decided to get a BT dongle, I was slightly apprehensive. Well, I was more than that, but I always live in hope! I was told there would be an 8-day wait and I was assured several times that the dongle would be sent to my mother's address. Suffice to say, the appointed day for delivery came and went. No dongle. Then Greg phoned me to say that a BT parcel had come to our home address. When he opened it, it was not a dongle but an unsolicited hub phone (we are still not sure why that was sent to us and even what we are supposed to do with it, but hey ho BT have since told us we can keep it, as it was their mistake!) They then promised they would deliver the dongle to my mother's address the following day and I am pleased to say that it DID finally come and I was able to access broadband for at least the second week of my holiday.

ii) As for meeting up with my two close friends from university days, that went pear-shaped too. The day before we were due to meet up, the one went down with a nasty cold and, as the other has to avoid exposure to such viruses wherever possible, the reunion weekend was cancelled, literally at the last minute. Such a shame, as were all so looking foward to it. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

iii) As for relaxing, I did manage to have a lovely time with my mum and help her around the house into the bargain, but the fortnight was unfortunately marred by Snoopy falling sick. He had a personality change while he was down there, became very morose and hang-dog-looking, was pooing for England with what looked more like cow-pats than anything else and lay lifeless on the bed, not even lifting his head when anyone came into the room. Definitely not his usual self. I sought out a vet nearby and Snoopy was diagnosed with colitis. Over the week, he got gradually better with antibiotics, steroids,painkillers and special diet; I got gradually poorer because of the vet's bill (to the tune of £110, as there were two consultations and all the medication.) I am pleased to say Snoopy's now fully recovered and glad to be home to chase the cat and ruck up rugs. Phew. Was definitely very worried about him for a few days.

On my return I have decided to have a bit of a personality change and am going to rename myself Addy. Rosiero was not my real name anyway and people were calling me all sorts - Rosario, Roseiro, Ros to name but a few - all very confusing, so I decided to play on the Alcoholic Daze (AD) and it morphed into Addy. Hope this will be easier to identify me with the blog title in future. I feel like a new woman..... as John Terry might have said !!