Eileen originally came to us as an adult protection case. She had been in hospital for several weeks after sustaining broken ribs, a broken nose and extensive bruising. She claimed she had fallen over a coffee table but it was generally thought that her husband had been responsible for her injuries. There was a long history of alcohol abuse and a generally chaotic backround and there was some suggestion that Eileen should not go home. She had various mental health issues and it was felt that the home situation was just not sustainable. However, Eileen had been successfully sober throughout her stay in hospital and was determined to go home and so, quite rightly, that was what was going to happen.
I remember the first case conference I attended at the hospital. Eileen was a handsome sort of woman with hair dyed an improbable black and piled into a bun and the sort of two piece skirt suit that always reminds me of the 1970's - all hectic flowers and glittery buttons. She was softly spoken and appeared nervous but she was completely able to make her own decisions and she spoke positively of her husband. He had visited her a scant few times but had told the nurses that he wanted her home and, since her injuries were healed and she was taking up a bed, things were put in place.
Initially we did very little, some nights they had been drinking but all was calm and we assisted Eileen into her night things and left. Some mornings they were not up in time for the call because they had stayed up very late the night before but generally the situation was unremarkable. Bill, Eileen's husband, was a gruff man who barely acknowledged the carers and he certainly seemed to be attached to his beer cans but he left us alone and we left him alone. Then three weeks into the care Bill literally dropped dead, no warning, no previous ill health, he just keeled over and was gone, a massive heart attack.
Ah the assumptions - somehow everyone thought that Eileen would be ok once she got over the initial shock and grief, after all, Bill was the author of most of her problems and surely life would be easier without the constant roller coaster of drink and drama. Eileen grieved deeply and painfully - she grieved for a man with whom she had had many good happy years and she grieved for the latter part of their relationship when things had been so truly horrible. She grieved for things said and done and for lost opportunities to put it right - and while she grieved, she drank.
We embarked on an eighteen month downward spiral of despair. Eileen drank all day and all night and she truly wished she was dead. The carers regularly found her in a soiled bed, wine bottle in hand, weeping copiously and hurting so much the pain seemed to permeate the fetid air of her bedroom. Slowly her sons became estranged by this sad parody of their mother who rang them day and night to scream abuse at them and was frequently found by police or neighbours wandering the streets in a soiled nightdress, still clutching the latest bottle of wine. It seemed to be an unstoppable decline and, as so often happens in these cases, the harrassed GP had no time for her, the alcohol services could not help her until she stopped drinking and her family washed their hands of her. This last was with some justification, I personally witnessed some of Eileen's screaming tirades to her sons and their wives, hurling obsceneties and ornaments at them after she had rung them and begged them to come.
One person did not give up though. Martine is an old school social worker and for once I wish I could use her real name because she deserves the accolade. She never gave up on Eileen, she visited every week or more often, she stayed with the pain and listened to the ranting and she fought tooth and claw to get anti drinking medication for Eileen, even after the GP refused it three times on grounds of futility and expense. Martine never gave up and neither did we but we all felt that Eileen would either die or kill herself and that the sad end was inevitable.
I don't know what made her turn the corner. Undoubtedly the medication Martine finally got helped but I think her belief in Eileen helped at least as much. Eileen stopped drinking. At first we were on a knife edge - she was horribly depressed and with sobriety came the realisation of what she had done to her family. Day added to day and week to week and as Eileen became used to not drinking her personality reasserted itself. She became quirky and funny and artistic, putting her mark on her house with throws and paintings and gradually replacing the things she had broken in her drunken rages. Her one great aching agony remained in the fact her family did not want to know her, did not believe in her epiphany because they had seen it all before, with her and with their father and they just could not take the risk of going through it again.
We are six months on. A few weeks ago Eileen rang me because she was having trouble contacting the incontinence nurse for her supply of pads. Her voice was strong and melodious and she joked that the nurse should be renamed the incompetence nurse and I put the phone down marvelling at the fact we had exchanged a simple joke and a laugh, how unthinkable that would have been this time last year. Last week marked the second anniversary of Bill's death and the first one Eileen had been through sober and also marked Eileen's birthday. The carers tell me that she had a visit from her youngest son, the one who lives nearest and the one who was most affected and therefore the most angry and intransigent in his determination to have no more to do with her. I rang Eileen and she told me there had been tears and painful conversation but that they were now talking again and the relationship had been resurrected. Eileen said Martine had been to visit her on her birthday too, "thank God for Martine" she said. Thank God indeed, I know her case load is huge and nobody would have blamed her if she had given up on Eileen, but she didn't.
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