My first 24 hours in that ICU was a blur. Once the medications kicked in, & the alcohol started drying up, I became a groggy, incoherent hospital patient. Doctors where in & out of my room. Some in more of a hurry than others. Some rude & impatient, others gentle & friendly. One of my main doctors was a young, handsome Asian guy. He made me comfortable enough to ask him a few questions & I asked him if I was going to die, or something to that effect. I was joking, but not really. He didn’t say no. He assured me, though, in his best doctor voice, that they were going to do the best they could to get me out of there. But again, he never once told me if I’d leave on foot or on a gurney.
Eventually, I wound up in my own hospital room, & although the meds kept me extremely sedated (pain killers, my ass), & my detoxification was in full swing, I was still somewhat cognizant of my ordeal. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, mild cirrohsis, dehydration, malnutrition, high blood pressure, a colon infection, thinning blood, slight brain damage, my kidneys weren’t functioning properly, & my stomach lining was so damaged that bile had begun to seep into my intestines. Luckily, the 2 blood transfusions I had didn’t back fire. Time would tell if I needed a liver transplant or not, but just in case, my name was put on the waiting list. My drinking was so intense that in about 13 year period, I’d drank enough to corrode my insides to that of a 50-something year old, professional(!) alcoholic.
I spent about 3 weeks in the hospital. No liquor, no cigarettes, no weed, no salt, no sugar, no strength, no way was I dying in this cold ass room. & as often as visitors were there, that was the loneliest time of my life. Honestly, it wasn’t anyone in that room but God & myself, no matter who was talking to me. Trust me when I tell you that we became very close, & have been ever since. The day I was released, I promised myself, & my wife & dad, that I’d never do this shit again. On my way out, I thanked the staff who was gracious enough to help an ignorant booze hound stay alive long enough to hobble away on a walker with a second chance at life.
I weighed 127 lbs, my leg muscles were atrophied & swollen at the same time, my arms were bruised from IV needles, & long term withdrawal symptoms combined with a dozen daily medications gave me tremors & hot flashes. We finally made it out to my father’s car, & when I felt the sun on my bruised, exhausted body, for the first time in years, I felt alive. I may have had a personal, albeit unpleasant encounter with Karma, but when Death showed up, I kicked his ass in the chest. I knew what it felt like to survive something. My dad checked me into rehab the next day, at the same hospital, so for 9 months, I was surrounded by guardian angels, who had come to know me personally & treated me like they really cared. Actually, one of my counselors suggested I start writing again to help me cope with my arrested development.
Later, I’d hear crazy stories about my hospital stay, like when someone called my wife from the hospital & said she should get there quickly because I was probably going to be dead soon, or how my homeboy Bruce’s girlfriend, who happened to work at the hospital, was telling him about this young guy who all but drank himself to death. When he came to visit me, & told her where he was going, she said “that’s the guy.”
The reason I put this drop out there is because April 1 is my 2 year soberversary (as my wife puts it). I swear on all that I love, I haven’t had a drink since March 31, 2008. I’m not looking for outside praise, but I’m proud if myself. If I died right now, I’ve accomplished something. Something so big that I want to share it with whoever cares to listen. Or more importantly, anybody who needs to hear it. No matter what we think, we’re never alone.
If there’s a specific moral to this story, you don’t need me to say it. I think I’ve said enough already. Thanks for reading, y’all.
(If you haven’t read it, here’s Part 1…)
There were plenty of times I thought that I needed a doctor, but it was only to myself, mid-gag over the toilet or laying down after puking my guts out. Never to another person. That would be too much like admitting I had a problem, & if that meant that I couldn’t drink anymore, no thanks. It was that serious. However, in the truck, on the way to the hospital, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. This, in essence, was an admission of helplessness. It wasn’t the usual vomit, wipe my mouth, then quench my thirst (& mask my shame) with more alcohol. It wasn’t the barf-in-the-bushes-so-nobody-would-know ruse. It was me being finally fed up. Sick & tired of being sick & tired, as cliche is that sounds. & although I may not have waved a white flag & surrendered to my demon(s), I sure as hell made it clear that this was something I could no longer handle by my lonesome.
It felt good to know that I was going to Kaiser Permenente, moving in a positive direction. Literally & figuratively. I’d get to the hospital, probably be diagnosed with alcohol poisoning, get some fluids & pills & a stern talking to & be on my way. In the polluted place my mind had become, this was what I imagined. Well, hoped for, at least.
Exactly a week before this trip to the doctor, it was my friend’s birthday. Ironically, the same friend who was driving me to the hospital. He had a birthday gathering at some fancy dancy shindig, & of course, my wife & I attended. When we got there, it was a room full of liquor, smiling faces, food, video games, a virtual playground for adults. My eyes widened with the possibility of running around this place, having fun. Only, after 10 minutes, it was painfully clear that there’d be no “running” or “having fun.” I could barely walk. I was so weak in fact, that one trip across the modestly large room was all I could make. I sat, breathless & alone, hoping my wife would come looking for me sooner than later. The last time I felt like this, I passed out over the stove, onto the lit burners, & collapsed on the kitchen floor. & just like my wife helped me up then, she helped me up now. Believe me when I tell you that women are stronger than men. Really though. We slowly made our way to my buddy’s table, full of unfamiliar faces, made more unfamiliar by my drunkenness. I put my head down, & kept it there until it was time to go. Maybe it was embarrassment, maybe it was sickness, or a healthy mixture of the 2, but I just wanted to go home. Eventually, we were at home, & I took my medicine.
We arrived at the hospital, & that same friend went to find me a wheelchair. I’m not saying I was any weaker than I was when we left my house, but I started letting go, if that makes sense. I felt like my body got heavier & heavier. I just wanted to give up. Not quite die, but I was tired of this place. Tired of fighting myself. Tired of punishing my body for what my mind couldn’t control. Tired of torturing my mind with what my body could no longer handle. I hadn’t yet come to the conclusion that I was finished living, but I was damn tired.
They wheeled me into the ER & before I knew it, I was whisked away to a bed. From that bed, I was put into a room. After awhile, I realized that I was in ICU. The intensive care unit. My wife was there, & I remembered asking her was she mad at me. Like I had a feeling this was just the beginning. I don’t remember what she said, but it was almost April 1st. April Fool’s Day. How fitting.
The average person lives life day to day, with very little, if any foresight. That’s a major part of the human experience. Fact. The brain processes information at a current rate. Response is learned through retention. Reaction is less prediction, more learned response. That’s why people react certain ways in different situations. It’s not so much what you see/don’t see coming, but rather what happened the last time. But, I digress.
The evening of March 31, 2008, I was chilling with my wife & 2 guys I consider more brother(s) than friend(s). It’s a good thing, too, because had I known that morning how my day would end, I would’ve picked those exact people to be with me, anyway. I can’t recall what day of the week it was, but at that point in my life, time was no longer a concern I had. I wasn’t even a concern of mine, so to speak. All I cared about was drinking. A horrible habit I picked up around age 20. The thing is, once I picked it up, I didn’t put it down. Pun intended. Most folks I hung around drank also, but it was momentary, dependent on what we were doing. I, on the other hand, had my own spot by then, so I had no one to answer to. Except for God, but we didn’t talk much in those days. It wasn’t a matter of me “going home tuned-up,” because I was already home, most of the time. My home. I searched for independence from the first steps I took out of my mother’s arms. Never once did I think how I would act when I actually found it.
I remember the first taste of alcohol I ever had. I was about 13, with my dad & my best friend, at a BBQ. I asked my dad could I have a beer, & he said “sure.” Of course, I thought I was the man, until I got dizzy & threw up in my mouth a little. I wasn’t anywhere near drunk, but I was uncomfortable enough to stay away from liquor for years. So many years, that I forget how miserable that insignificant incident made me. Damn selective memory…
Somehow, I managed to avoid drugs, liquor & sex all the way through high school. I’m quite sure I was the only teenager like that in all of Los Angeles, especially since very few Amish families live ’round these parts. Once I graduated though, the training wheels came off, with magnum force, & I had a lot of catching up to do. Or so I thought.
The first sign of me having some unusual dependence on alcohol was that I carried around a water bottle of straight tequila with me. Everywhere. At the time, it was a “cool” thing to do, since I hung around a bunch of broke niggas who couldn’t afford to have their own euphoric juice. God forbid one of them would point out how odd it was for me to be drunk all the time, lest they have to get free drink elsewhere. At the time though, I was still functional, so I tended to my everyday responsibilities, no matter how much I was buzzing. Which was quite often, in fact. The little jobs I did have during the early stages of the ‘ism didn’t require more common sense than God gave a mongoose, so drunk or sober, I was good. But, when I left whatever menial obligation I had, believe there was a bottle of something in the car. This nonchalant recreation become full-on daily routine.
So, March 31, 2008, I sat in my grown man chair, conversing about God knows what. All I remember is that I felt bad. Real bad. Not the usual bad that I felt daily & remedied with more alcohol. It was a bad that my medication couldn’t help. It wasn’t “hangover” bad either, because a real alcoholic stops getting hung over after awhile. You’re either drunk, or passed out. True addiction knows no middle ground. My wife had been subtly bugging me about going to see a doctor for a few months prior, but in my mind, if I got drunk, I could ignore the fact that I’d stopped eating & couldn’t sleep. That’s why “we” call it medication. That shit makes you feel better, no matter what’s wrong. But, not tonight. I put my cup down, & told my friends & my wife I was done.
“I need to go to the doctor.”
All 3 of them were caught off guard & kind of made the face like when a pregnant wife says to her husband “It’s time…”. Not a look of horror, per se, but damn close. They helped me get into my homie’s truck, gathered up my son & off we went, headed to Kaiser Hospital. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t polish off my cup before heading out.