Crisis: Diagnosis Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville, Florida)

Bozeman Deaconess Hospital
July 25th, 2009

The limp body father and son carried a couple days earlier, an arm over each of their shoulders, was jaundiced, and helpless. They were headed for Doctor Patterson’s office hastily not certain what was wrong with their load. It would only take him a moment to recognize the signs and call the emergency room. A few hours earlier the father had broken into his youngest son’s apartment to find him confused and disoriented soaked in sweat and droplets of blood.

I had been diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. I was forced to close my little bookstore I lived above. I was lying in the intensive care unit as I had almost bled out from ruptured esophageal varices, abnormal, enlarged veins in the lower part of the esophagus. My parents were moving my possessions from my apartment into storage, I was moving back in with them unable to care for myself. I was an alcoholic who had brought this on myself. I was at ground zero, I had bottomed out, my life was in shambles and I was clinging to the unknown, the long road ahead of me through liver transplant and back to life. I had screwed up, screwed up big this time. I don’t make small mistakes, I make grandiose ones. I don’t screw up my life in subtle ways, I go over the top. I hadn’t really been living for sometime, merely existing, languishing too afraid to live, too afraid to die. My parent’s worried faces were burnt into my brain as they looked down on my body love in their eyes, tubes pouring out of me to the ticking, clicking, beeping monitors that kept me alive. The doctors had poured seven units of blood into my body in an effort to save my life, with three more to come in the next few days. It’d worked. Beyond all reason, I was ready to fight!

I had known for sometime I was slowly killing myself with each drink, I was unhappy, severely clinically depressed, ready to die. I had begun passing blood two days before my thirty-seventh birthday. My stool was black, grainy, appearing like coffee grounds. I googled the symptoms. Word for word there it was on the computer screen, I was passing blood. Get yourself to the emergency room immediately. There was no grey area in the instructions. I poured myself another pint sized vodka tonic, heavy on the cheap vodka, Kamchatka. The tonic water just enough to give the hint of effervescence. I was sitting in the dark at my desk in the bookstore a half empty bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey on the desk, my vodka tonic in hand, and the computer screen screaming liver failure, alcoholic cirrhosis. I didn’t care, perhaps this would be it. I’d lie my head on the pillow and never wake, an end I was anticipating, even welcoming.

This tightrope, this cliff, this edge was the precipice where I seemed to live. The only people who truly know this precipice are those that have gone to excess. I had fallen. This was it, this is where I’d been headed for a few years. I wasn’t the heaviest drinker I knew, far from it in fact. There was Taylor who infamously in my circle of friends routinely completed the Jäger challenge. I’d watch with some perverse fascination as he’d slam down an entire pint glass of Jagermeister in one swallow. It was impressive on some level. There was Frank who was twenty years my senior and would drink pint glasses of whiskey sours with maybe a shot of sour mix. I would sit with him while he drank four, five, six or more of these in an evening, every evening. I was always the quiet one at the end of the bar, a classic novel perhaps Hemingway or Tolstoy in front of me, sipping my vodka tonic and a rocks glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey. I used to be a beer drinker, but that had changed somewhere along the way. I had built up a tolerance and needed something stronger, faster, cheaper.

I knew I had lost control about a year and a half earlier. Up until then I never drank at home, I never drank alone. Now my alarm went off in the morning and I’d pour myself a shot of Jameson and drink it down before I sat up in bed. How had I gotten to this point? The negative self talk had gotten worse, much worse. I’d wake each morning tremors wracking my hands as I needed my fix. A shot of whiskey and my hands calmed down, not steady but functional. I’d head downstairs to open my store. I’d pour myself a vodka tonic I kept in the dorm fridge behind my desk. My store that had once been doing pretty well, now the recession, a new public library, recently opened Barnes & Noble and Borders Books all cutting into the bottom line. I had poured myself into my little store and somehow I’d turn it around I endlessly told myself. I couldn’t fail at this, it’s all I had. I wasn’t ready to admit failure, not if I could help it, I’d rather die first.

Something had transpired between those last days of drinking and waking up in intensive care gazing into my parent’s eyes. It was utterly simple, for the first time I could recall in several years I wanted to live. I’m not sure at first if I wanted to live for them or myself, but unmistakably my thirst for life had returned. I had long known I needed a therapist, a psychiatrist. I desperately needed help. It had come on slow and suddenly at the same time. I guess that’s how mental illness works. It was hard to recall when I hadn’t been depressed. I was barely a teenager when I first noticed the hole growing inside me, something empty. It was small at the time, faint and lacking the substance it would develop in later years as I fed it with each cocktail. I’d learn to nurture and focus on the emptiness I felt so acutely. Did I really have it all that bad though, so many had it worse. After all I had a loving family, my own business, friends, and vodka. I’d just feed the growing hole another drink, ignore it, block it out. It was a sign of weakness to seek professional help for your problems, I could handle it myself, I’d simply pull up my bootstraps and carry on.

They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. You are only given what you can handle. The cliches are endless and infuriating, but sometimes on target. I had the most difficult fight of my life directly ahead of me. I was being held together by tubes and wires, the intensive care nurse checking on me every few minutes to take my vitals. I had no idea what I had been through the last few days as I lie there fading in and out of consciousness. No recollection of what I’d put my parents through as they prayed that I’d survive. I could read the worry in their faces as the doctor asked me questions. “Do you know the date? Do you know where you are? Do you know who these people are?” I could only imagine he’d asked me these questions before and I hadn’t known the answer. Guilt was already swelling inside me, but there was a more acute emotion dominating shame. Admitting to my Alcoholism was only the final confirmation of how weak I truly felt. My natural reaction was to pour myself another shot of Jameson and bury these feelings, but that wasn’t available to me here. Instead when the doctor asked how much pain I was in, I responded with a ten. In minutes a shot of morphine was administered and I faded into sweet numbness these negative thoughts would be there when I woke. The running was over, I’d make my stand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s