Post 103. Pause

Most of my blog posts have been (I hope) light-hearted, with the aim to make you smile and maybe learn a factoid about something you hadn’t realised you were interested in. I’m afraid that today there is very little lightness. I’ve turned off the comments as I’m not sure I could cope with any at the moment. I have simplified explanations and may have got things slightly wrong. Please bear with me.

I believe that there is an addictive personality trait, which may or may not have a genetic component. It can be harmless, as in my needing to have 30 to 40 books at my bedside so I never run out of something to read. I don’t think I’d get withdrawal symptoms if I had no books. On the other hand, it can be destructive in the extreme. In most people it probably won’t show as there’s no trigger to set it off. Take alcohol as an example. In the vast majority of people, “social drinking” is easily controlled. In some, they cannot stop and will drink when alone and at any time of the day. Once you’re used to drinking you can become dependent and find it very difficult to ignore the craving. It is stated in Encyclopaedia Britannica that heavy smoking will decrease your life by 8 years and alcohol abuse by 15 years.

We’ve all heard about liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, classically linked with alcohol abuse, but they are not the only bad effects. Alcoholic drinks are acidic and corrosive: beer has a pH of around 4, wine typically has a pH of 2.9 to 4.2. For those of you who have forgotten your schoolgirl chemistry, neutral is 7, acidic is below that and alkaline above. Your saliva is around 7.5 and protects your teeth. Cheese is good to help protect your teeth after acidic food. Stomach acid is around 1.5 to 3.5 and if you’ve ever thrown up you know how that feels. (Fruit juices are also acidic but we tend not to binge drink them). Below about 6 you’ll start damaging your teeth. The combination with smoking, which is not uncommon in drinkers, will further aggravate your body.

As the liver becomes damaged, for whatever reason, the blood pressure is likely to go up in the vein carrying blood to the liver. Scar tissue in the liver may cause the blood to flow into smaller veins to avoid the blockage. This can cause varices, which are veins that have distended and therefore have thinner walls (think of blowing a balloon up). Most commonly they are in the gastro-intestinal tract (oesophagus, where the stomach and throat meet, or the stomach). If you are lucky you’ll notice you have stomach pain and you’re coughing blood up, and you’ll go to your doctor as soon as you can. Your liver is already damaged but with treatment and care you can recover. If you are malnourished and drinking alcohol, you need to accept that your life style has to change. If you ignore the signs, it’s possible that you’ll bleed to death very quickly once it’s started.

I was the oldest of four children, with three younger brothers, aged 5 to 10 years younger than me. Dean, the eldest, tragically died almost four years ago aged 56, as I’ve told you in Post 102 last week. Guy, the youngest, was a “heavy drinker”. He said that, as he only drank wine, he could not be called an alcoholic. He started A levels but never completed them, although he was certainly bright enough to have gone to university. He was smoking tobacco and weed, which is now known to rewire the brain of younger people. He was the life and soul of the party when sober, but over the last few years started the day with a mug of wine for breakfast and kept going. He was divorced: tragically his ex-wife died of liver cancer a few years later. There were no children. He squandered any money he had and ended up living in a rented room with another alcoholic as landlord, which did not go well. However, due to Dean’s death, he was able to buy a small house in Scotland, near our other brother. He seemed to be turning his life around. He was going to stop smoking and drinking and get fit. He was going to get a dog. He was going to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

For a short while he had a new “girlfriend” who moved in with him: she had had an alcoholic father and, like many others before her, maybe thought she’d be able to save Guy from his destructive behaviour. She left after a few weeks: he was either drunk or asleep and complained when she tried to help. This was a refrain through his life: nothing was ever his fault, if only he got the right help he’d be fine, but when offered it he would say that his life was being dictated to him. Possibly the last person to see him alive was a neighbour behind him in the corner shop: he was buying three or four bottles of wine and 40 cigarettes, nothing else.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have worked out the end of the story. He was found last Saturday morning dead on his bathroom floor. The TV and all the lights were on. There was blood soaked through the quilt in front of the TV where he slept. The suspected cause of death is rupture of the oesophagus. We need to wait for the post mortem to confirm. He was 54 years old. Here is a photo of the good times, dancing one Christmas with our dad.