Flash Says…

Archive for January 2013

I didn’t drink alcohol last night. As a result, I found my pain almost unbearable. I lay awake in bed all night, in agony despite being cushioned by two double duvets, wishing I could sleep, wishing the pain would ease. I had no solution.

A good friend, Beth, an alcohol worker, has not been drinking in January. Instead she’s been raising money for Alcohol Concern, and been blogging about her journey. Her blog has reminded me that I drink to “harmful” levels, and made me think about alternatives. But so far, I haven’t found a solution.

I have good reasons to cut back on my drinking. As well as knowing Beth who is an alcohol worker, another friend is an alcoholic (now two years sober) and I have seen how not drinking has changed his life. Most crucially, I saw my dad get ill and then die of liver failure aged just 60. So I know first-hand about the damage that alcohol can do – to your social life, and to your body. If that doesn’t put me off, what will?

But it isn’t that simple. I have a chronic pain condition, and no medicines seem to provide me with adequate pain relief. In order to cope, I drink nearly every evening. I rarely get drunk, or feel particularly intoxicated, nor do I want to be: but I do exceed recommended limits. I just need to have a certain level of alcohol in my bloodstream so that I can sleep at the end of the day.

A friend with the same condition as me, David G, said: “When I did my Pain Management course, one question the medics asked was “Who supplements their painkillers with alcohol?” When half the class stuck their hand up, the only comment was “That’s about average.” In teaching us to be expert patients in control of our own conditions, alcohol was completely accepted as one of the tools available for responsible use.” So it is more or less expected that patients will use alcohol to help their pain levels. But at what cost?

I have tried stronger painkillers; buprenorphine, and oxycodone. They were good in that I didn’t feel a wish for alcohol when I was taking either medication, but unfortunately they each turned me into a zombie and I couldn’t take either on a permanent basis. I haven’t found anything else that I can take instead. So it was helpful to know that medics expect patients to use alcohol as a pain killer, but sad nonetheless.

I’ve seen the way that alcohol can destroy your body. Everything from yellow skin and needing regular blood transfusions, through to limbs seeping liquid from oedema; a midriff swollen by many litres of ascitic fluid, tight as a drum; regular gastroscopies to check for veins about to burst; and ultimately confusion, coma, then death. It is utterly horrid. It was a cruel thing to happen to my dad in the last few years of his life, taking him when he was barely 60. People whispered “it was no age” and they were right; and it upsets me to think that if I go the same way, I might only have another 20 years with my husband, who I love beyond compare. I have liver profile tests on a regular basis, but you don’t tend to see signs of damage until it has already been done. I just hope that I am luckier than my father.

I drink almost every night. By NHS standards, I drink heavily and I drink too much. For example I will drink a pint of Pimms (5 units) over a few hours, and then a Pina Colada (2.5 units) over another hour or so. That’s a quiet evening; I’ll often have something else as well. This is what I need in order to bring my pain to a manageable level, so I can sleep. The NHS thinks this is a “binge”.

Bearing this in mind, and inspired by Beth’s blog, I didn’t drink alcohol last night. As a result, I found my pain almost unbearable. The first night of not drinking is just about doable, but a second night would be impossible. You see, when I don’t drink for a night I am in agony. Every time I try to sleep, the stabbing pain jolts me awake again. I lie there trying to sleep, but whichever way I lie, it hurts. If it’s not my knees or hips shouting, it’s my pelvis or my ribs; they take it in turns to disturb me. I also flick between being too hot and too cold. My body is hypersensitive and my pain levels are up to 11. When my husband reaches an arm around me, I have to move him away, because it is even painful to be touched.

It took me until morning before exhaustion overwhelmed me and I finally got some kip. I slept from 8am until afternoon. When I woke up, I was in agony again. This doesn’t happen the morning after a night of drinking. That’s so unfair, it’s like being penalised for doing the right thing! So if I want to give up alcohol, I first need to find another way to handle pain.

I have asked my medics. I can’t take stronger painkillers because the patches damage my skin and tablets turn me into a zombie. They have said I shouldn’t take anything more than codeine. But to me, that is like a sticking plaster on a gaping wound; better than nothing, but only just.

I don’t know how to end this article. You see, I am frustrated that I end up drinking to help manage my pain, but I don’t know any other method, so I will continue to do so… even though I know it is probably harming my liver, and I really don’t want to end up like my father.

I can’t find an alternative. My immediate, day to day need is to minimise pain. My long term aim is to minimise damage to my body and to plan for my future. But until I find a way to replace alcohol as a painkiller, I am just running on the spot, and hoping not to do myself harm in the process.



Beth’s blog is http://bethanfisher.wordpress.com. Please read about her experiences of a month lived sober, and consider sponsoring her for Alcohol Concern.

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Today I received an unexpected email. Five years ago I’d written this missive to “future me”, and it was delivered out of the blue, completely forgotten. So what did it say, and how accurate was it?

“Today is 7 Jan 08” I began. “Bill Gates showed off a coffee table with a touch sensitive computer in it and reckons in 5 years’ time there will be ‘tens of millions’ of people sitting around them in their lounge.

“So here you are, 5 years on – amazing things will have happened like the Olympics, and like Leytonstone tube getting more accessible – so, have you got an interactive coffee table yet?”

Wow. Touch sensitive coffee tables eh? Well, I’ve got a tablet that I use in bed or in the lounge, and a smartphone of course, but that’s as touch sensitive as my house gets! Cynically, I googled “touch sensitive coffee tables” only to find an article – dated today – about a new giant tablet which will act like a coffee table, or even an air hockey game. But it isn’t an actual coffee table – that was just an analogy for its size. So I suppose Bill Gates is hoping nobody remembers what he said half a decade ago!

I wish I’d been more insightful, more detailed. Instead I referred just to “amazing things… like the Olympics”. Well, it WAS amazing, and living near enough to hear the closing ceremony fireworks from my house, it was exciting too. I spent two very enjoyable days at the Olympic Park (one watching Tom Daley grab Olympic diving bronze, another seeing Paralympic heroes Oscar Pistorius and David Weir in the stadium) and benefited from other 2012 events such as New Year fireworks, and seeing my current favourite band Tom Williams and the Boat performing live at an east London park.

But my local station remains inaccessible to me; there are stairs and no lift. I still have to get a minicab to Stratford in order to get onto the Underground. The thing I failed to predict was Ken Livingstone being ousted as Mayor of London. In came Boris, and out went many promises on which disabled people were depending. He shelved plans to make my local station accessible to me, saying there was no money… while I still have to fork out a fiver for each cab ride to my nearest accessible station.

Therefore, my first hopes for the next five years are that Boris loses the next Mayoral election, and the Tories lose the next General one. Budgets and benefits have been cut beyond what some people can cope with, which is shocking and depressing to see.

There were other sadnesses that I didn’t predict. After more than two years of illness, my dad died in 2011. Then last year my 12 year old greyhound succumbed to cancer. I don’t feel ready to lose anyone else close to me, although my nan-in-law is in her nineties…

Perhaps the next five years will bring opportunities to travel and relax. I got ill in 2011 and I’m still trying to manage my health challenges now, although I’ve now got the assistance of some great specialists. My immediate priority is a holiday, and then when I’m well enough, a puppy!

I’d also like some more opportunities to speak on TV and radio; this is something I didn’t predict, and which really began in 2008 when I was featured on Countryfile and The One Show. By 2012 I’d also been on Radio stations 2, 4 and 5, loads of local radio programmes, BBC World, Sky News, and on BBC Breakfast TV – though each only for a few minutes at a time. Hopefully over the next five years I’ll get more chances to share my knowledge and experiences with the world! If I could one day make my living in that manner, I’d be delighted.

Those are my hopes for the future – what are yours? Do you have a prediction for how we will be living in 2018? Perhaps you can help me reach my goals in some way! Let me know your thoughts.

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