Saturday, May 12, 2012

What death looks like...

He was about 5’7”, wavy brown hair and big brown eyes. There was some meat on his bones, but he was not at all overweight. He just wasn’t thin. He had a huge smile that make you want to smile right back. He was intelligent and could talk for hours about the planets and prospects of life. He was cultured and went to plays, operas and the symphony. He always seemed to fit in, no matter where he was or who he was with. That was then.

Today he is thin. His grey hair is matted against his head. He can only open one of his eyes at a time so slightly that I wonder if he sees anything at all. He is crumpled and slumped as he lies in his bed. His frame is so small that his body almost looks childlike. His skin is now the orange color of the sunrise and against the white sheets, he almost glows. He doesn’t know where he is. He must struggle to only say a word or two at a time. There is an odor about him that is so distasteful that it makes me back up when I get near him. This is what death by alcohol looks like. This is now.
Each time a person enters Riley’s room, the person must put on a flimsy yellow gown made of something like a fabric dryer sheet. Next the hands must be washed with hot soapy water and then gloved with bright blue latex gloves. When exiting the room, the outfit is torn off and discarded in the hazardous waste can. It is to protect others from any harmful bacteria that may be emanating from Riley’s body.

I was unable to go to the hospital yesterday and I probably won’t go today either. I’ve been sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis. My weakened condition makes it unsafe for me to visit. Riley’s weakened condition would make it unsafe for me to be in the room. I cannot return to the hospital until I’m well. Riley may not live that long. However, when I call his nurse, I am told that there is “no change.”
For me, yesterday is just a blur of coughing, headaches, nose-blowing, and sleeping. But, I know I will gradually get better. I know that I will wake up, probably tomorrow morning, and feel like doing something productive. This is just a temporary condition for me.

Riley’s condition is not temporary. It will continue to deteriorate until he is no longer breathing. He will not wake up a few days from now and make the coffee. Nor will he watch NCIS or talk to the TV. He will never again be the person who laughs out loud and cries when he hears the Star Spangled Banner. Instead he will lie in that bed and wait for the end. Since he does not believe in God, I don’t know what the end will look like for him. I pray each day that he will change his mind about God and be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven where he can be with his parents, sons and all the other loved ones who have gone before him.
When Riley was more coherent, just after being admitted to the hospital, I told him he better do what the doctors requested if he wanted to reach his goal of living until he was 104 and be killed by a jealous husband. He responded with “I think I need to re-calculate.” It was the first time I had heard him acknowledge that he might not be immortal after all.

As he lies in the Palliative Care Unit, I don’t seem to be able to find any words for him. I ask if he wants water or applesauce or pudding. But, for the most part, I have nothing to say to him. It’s as though I had a certain number of words in my word bag that was just for Riley. I’ve used them all up. Sometimes, I want to scream out – “I told you so!” But, what good would that do? I would gain NO satisfaction if he agreed with me. So, when I’m in the room with him, I struggle with talk of the weather. That’s about the best I can do.
Going through this alcoholic end of life thing, makes me want to plead with every alcoholic who reads this blog. Please don’t let Riley’s fate be yours. It is a miserable way to die. The family is so torn between anger and grief that they sometimes don’t know what to do. It is heart wrenching to watch someone as they fade off as a result of a slow suicide via alcohol – or drugs. It could have been prevented but if the alcoholic chooses alcohol over sobriety, they are sure to end up exactly where Riley is right now. Death is always traumatic, but don’t choose this route.

In the days to come, I will post before and after pictures of Riley. I’m not trying to expose his identity. I just want it to be very clear about what death looks like for an alcoholic. It’s not a pretty sight.
As soon as I’m over this creeping cruddy bronchitis, I will go back to the hospital. Maybe I’ll read to him from the Lord of the Rings just like he did for me when I was pregnant with our son. For Riley that will be a good way to go.

19 comments:

Furtheron said...

Thank you for this blog and being so open and honest.

I've read for a while now - I rarely comment as I have few words to say.

I will say this - very nearly 8 years to the day this weekend I took my last drink. I am incredibly lucky that I "got it" and got out before it headed the way it would have done.

Sometimes it is easy for me to forget how it was, the voice in the head can pop up and make stupid suggestions like "you'll be ok now surely" etc. I fought for years with the problem and the last year was a war between me and the booze, which I very nearly lost as I couldn't see an alternative to living with booze, I had to it was how I had to cope with life. Luckily I surrendered and put my trust in others for a while, then learnt what I needed to do. If you are an alcoholic in need of help please reach out you can recover I am living proof today of that. If one person was today to determine to put the bottle down and seek help Riley's fate will have at least have had some good.

ADDY said...

This was me two years ago, so I know how you feel. I pray the end will be quick for him and I pray for your serenity. It sounds from what you say as if it will not be far off. ((((Hugs))))

Syd said...

I wish that Riley had made different choices. Alcoholism is a terrible disease. I'm glad that he is in the hospital. Don't give up hope.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

It saddens me to read this Linda in that Rileys' choices damaged so many lives and he is about to make the final payment - I am certain that those who develop alcoholism never truly understand the price they will pay and the cost to their families.

You are a tower of strength to many Linda - your strength a haven for those in a similar situation.

May Riley pass peacefully and peace be brought to you for you surely deserve it.

Anna

Karen said...

I'm so sorry that it ended up this way, Linda. This brought back my own memories of my mother's sad demise. Soon it will be time to stop the countdown clock of Riley's drinking once and forever.

You've been an amazing light in this storm.

Dixie Redfearn said...

You are an amazing woman and you certainly did well by Riley, even though you too are not even married anymore. Linda, I am so impressed by your writing and your insight (and my career was as a professional writer). Who knows how many people you have helped with your honest, heartfelt blog. If you ever want to come to California, I have a nice guest room and would be honored to have you. Keep the faith.

Anonymous said...

Be brave my dear Linda.
It's so hard to hear, yet a relief that the pain will be over for both of you soon. I imagine you feel numb and surreal. I am a bit stunned reading this, although I have been expecting to hear of this time, I don't know how to feel.
I'm thinking of you
Xxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you, Linda. Take care of yourself. Praying for strength, comfort, and the peace that passes understanding. With affection, Deb

Anonymous said...

You both have been through so much. I hope you both find peace -and Linda thank you - I just found your blog a few weeks ago but have learned so much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I discovered this blog several months ago and it has helped me immensely as I struggle to remain sober. God willing, I will get my one year chip in June.

As terrible as it has been to read Riley's story, it has been inspiring as well-- I have been greatly inspired to do everything in my power to avoid inflicting the pain you are feeling now on my own husband and children. The graphic details and overall tragedy you describe have been as motivational in my journey as my meetings and my sponsor.

Thanks Linda, for keeping this drunk on the right path, and may you have peace.

Wendy

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing your blog.
I am learning to let go of an Alcoholic I love, as painful as it is.

I did not CAUSE it
I cannot CONTROL it
I cannot CURE it

I hope you have serenity and peace, in realizing what a good person you are.......

Anonymous said...

Hoping you get well soon. An illness can very exhausting. Also I'm praying Riley will pass peacefully and painlessly. You will finally be able to get off the bus ride of his life and enter a plane to freely fly to yours.
In one of your precious blogs, you mentioned you were debating on how to end your book. Your blog has been about Riley and you. Two lives, not just one. It would be nice to have the book with his passing, to show his pain and suffering has come to an end. He no longer is in pain. But the final chapter should be about you, the second person who has been involved in the life of Riley. You are still living and the last chapter should show that life can go on. Your readers care about you too. They would want to incision your life for your future to be good and happy and peaceful. Things that you need and deserve. In the book somewhere representing that the weight has lifted off your shoulders, off your back and you can feel that you can fly again. Then your readers can feel good for both of you when this painful journey has ended. Peace for you both.

Beth said...

Thinking of you Linda, wishing you peace and strength.

Anonymous said...

That was an amazinging portrayal...heartbreaking as it is.
Peace to you!

Cindy said...

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Cindy Dy
www.gofastek.com

Edmund Carrington said...

As a recovering addict myself, your words fill me with both remorse for my own failures and inspiration to maintain strength and hope. You are an amazing individual with very rare gifts. I wish you peace and comfort - may God Bless You.

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janet davies said...

My boyfriend died July 2nd 2014. I am still in shock from living with him for 3 1/2 years and seeing him drink himself to death. Still trying to process it all. Great blog. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My wife of 4 yrs is struggling with end stage alcoholism at age 50. Had I known her history of prescription drug and alcohol abuse, maybe I would have reacted differently when I saw warning signs. We are in the middle of a divorce due to her drinking. She suffers from a non functioning liver, failing kidneys, anemia and wet brain. She has lost control of her bladder and bowels. It seems to have happened so fast but I'm learning that the abuse has gone on for 10-15 yrs. So gut wrenching to watch someone die such a horrible death. I've come to accept that this is how her life will end.