Monday, February 16, 2009

What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

When a person has very few pleasures in life do you have a right to deny them those few in order to preserve their health?

Years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated with my answer and would have no doubt spouted a load of guff about free will, choices, self autonomy and a load of other textbook slogan-making twaddle.

Now I’m not so sure.

My granddad, God bless ‘im, has a pretty meagre existence in terms of self fulfilment. He’s 70% blind, lonely as hell since my gran died 4 years ago and my aunt (his youngest daughter) died last year. He’s going deaf and is becoming rather unsteady on his feet.

As far as worthwhile activities go there is precious little he can do to fill his days except listen to the radio full blast, talk to his various visitors, eat and drink.

Drinking as a pleasure would be fine if his beverage of choice was a nice cup of Earl Grey. Sadly, being an ex-Navy man, his preferred tipple is rum.

And the stronger the better.

In the past this hasn’t been a problem as he’s always been responsible / careful / respectful. Now, however, with little else to live for, I suspect, and little else to occupy his days he’d been hitting the bottle rather hard.

The family has grumbled but lived with it for the last few years and bar a few tellings off and a flurry of nags when he’s got himself particularly sizzled we’ve let him get on with it with the proviso that he doesn’t overdo it. I mean at his age he hardly needs to worry about drinking himself to death, does he?

However, yesterday he had to activate his emergency helpline button as he’d got himself so drunk he’d slid out of his chair and onto the floor and couldn’t get back up again.

It would be almost comical except that an ambulance man had to attend and spend a great deal of time sorting him out.

Thankfully all was well.

He’s ok. He’s fine. He’s embarrassed and a little chagrined after getting the sharp end of my mother’s tongue but no lasting damage has been done.

Or has it?

The problem is that even without the thought that it could have been so much worse an ambulance man had had to devote time and energy to a “non emergency call out” when he no doubt could have been better employed elsewhere.

Which isn’t to say I don’t think my granddad is worth it because he most definitely is.

But this cannot go on.

And I don’t think getting trollied makes him particularly happy anyway as he tends to get maudlin drunk as opposed to waving-his-pants-in-the-air-happy-as-larry drunk. He might not agree but he’s a lot brighter when he hasn’t got a couple of pints of Captain Morgan sloshing around his central nervous system.

My mother agrees and, being the policeman of the relationship (as indeed all mothers are), she’s going to advise him and the loyal network of family and friends that support him that rum, if it ever appears on his shopping list again, will be dispensed and distributed in much smaller volumes in future.

It is the only thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

But I can’t help feeling a tad uncomfortable and inappropriately authoritarian about it. What right do we have – even to preserve his health – when he has so little else in life that he enjoys?

Back to that old chestnut again.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?

Early in the morning!

Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,

Early in the morning!

Hmm. I tell you now, that he’d bloody love...


Anonymous said...

oh the horns of a dilemma are not a comfortable place to be are they...and when you're on the fence its true that you can see and understand both sister, who has no children, recently lost her husband....they both smoked and drank more than they should and she still does...even though in the hospital as we watched her husband die she promised to stop.....of course she has'nt but everytime i try the 'please try to cut down' conversation i feel just as you do with your grandad....i only know that sometimes if you do nothing things work out well anyway...

Lucy Fishwife said...

My uncle came for Christmas - my dad's younger brother, aged 72 - none of us had seen him for ages, and since my dad's death in August I think my mum had a bit of a crisis of conscience about him (she and my dad were divorced a million years ago and neither side of my family is particularly demonstrative) - he's a loner, very computer geeky, ludicrously bright but definitely eccentric - and obviously a HUGE drinker. He brought a bottle of 60 proof whisky with him and would start tucking in more or less after breakfast. I think we were all a bit shocked at how far downhill he'd gone. My mum was brightly trying to distract him from it, which anyone could have told her was a wasted effort, and I felt much the same as you - something may well need to be done, but if it's what he likes, and there's very little else, and he's no danger to anyone, why stop him? I absolutely take your point about non-essential ambulance calls, but I'd rather it was him than someone whose cat was stuck up a tree... it's a moral minefield.

Brother Tobias said...

It's a poser. It'd be a shame if he wasn't allowed his daily rum ration, but difficult to manage the rate of consumption. Is he eating enough, and regularly? I'm all for people living as they please, but as you say, the collateral effects matter.

Steve said...

Hi Deirdre, I doubt there's an easy solution for anyone - no matter what you do you're interfering with another human being's right to do what they like with their own body and I do think that sometimes the more focus and energy you give the problem the more inclined the problem is to get bigger... so maybe you are right: less is more in the long run.

Thanks Lucy. I hate moral minefields. You're in no danger of losing a leg but the old sanity chip takes a pasting. 60% proof? Wow. I do recall my family bringing my granddad back a bottle of 70% proof rum from Canada once - back in happier days - and it left even him, a hardened rum drinker, breathless. The only mitigation regarding his lifeline button is that he pays for it himself - it isn't a free service so maybe he's entitled to give it a buzz every now and then?! And better an incident of beer legs than something far more serious... it's just that the drinking could lead to that "far more serious" thing if he isn't careful.

He eats damned well, Brother T, and along with his other visits I go up midweek at lunchtime and eat with him to ensure he'd getting at least one good meal a day. As for drinking... I do worry that he isn't hydrating himself properly as he doesn't drink water / squash and only occasionally makes himself a cup of tea. His only compromise is the occasional can of ginger beer!

Anonymous said...

Steve, your post made me sad. You are not alone in your dilema...My aunt was the same way, though much younger. It's hard to interfere. It's hard to watch. Like Brother Tobias he getting his everyday needs met? If not, maybe he should be placed in a care center, or have someone regularly check in through the day for meals, bathing and such. I don't think his vice should be removed...just lessoned so that he is not in danger. And really, he needs company. He is lonely. That makes me sad. Keep us posted.

Steve said...

Hi Sweet Cheeks, we and even he has occasionally suggested a care home but although he will wish it for himself one day the next he is vehemently opposed to it. Personally I do think he is better off in his own home - his lack of vision is not such a problem because he already knows where everything is. Plus, having worked in a nursing home for a number of years in my twenties, I'm well aware that such a move can be too much for some old people to stand.

The Sagittarian said...

Oh Steve, thats a sad one. I agree with the others, if it's something that makes him you think he's overdoing it to get some attention? Maybe there's someone who could call in and visit each day, some places have volunteers who do that sort of work. My mum remarried a few years ago (she at 74 and he was 82) and the guy she married had a "habit" of the alcoholic kind. Since mbeing with Mum he doesn't get half as trollied on such a regular basis (still gets trollied on occasions), I think its a companionship issue. Make sure you keep him away from any naked flames!!

Steve said...

Hi Amanda, he does get people visiting him every day but, living on his own now, the days are very long and obviously people can't stay for hours and hours. I'm sure some of it is attention seeking but battling that is another difficult issue - giving him more attention only feeds the problem and giving him less... also only feeds the problem! As for naked flames... I think it would only be a problem if he coughed over his gas stove.

Suburbia said...

Hmm, a very tricky situ'. I feel there is no real solution here, pood thing.

Getting old does not seem a very attractive prospect does it? However it looks like he has a whole lot of people around him who care, and in that he is extremly lucky.

MommyHeadache said...

oh that is sad. I don't know what to suggest, can you get him to drink rum in mixers? Then you can really water down the rum. poor old sod, i want to give him a hug!

Steve said...

Suburbia, thankfully he is blessed with friends and family so all is not lost.

Emma, I'm sure he'd love you to hug him... but I'm not sure you'd escape with your virtue intact...!

skatey katie said...

i have a friend who's an ambulance driver. he got a call out the other day and raced to the aid of an elderly woman who, it turned out, needed help straightening her duvet cos she couldn't reach it. my friend graciously helped her, turned off the ambulance siren and took it back to the station.
it must be really difficult keeping your spirits up during old age.
sorry about the pun, i am feeling a bit silly - i am sending sunshine to your grandad tho X

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, that is indeed a tricky one. I kind of take your point of view if I am thinking about someone else - the saving them from themselves (and wasting ambulance resources) and being rationed. But if I think about myself, I have to say I would be incensed if anyone tried to ration me and take away my few pleasures in life (I don't mean now - I mean when I am older and don't have many). It's one of many things that scare me about being old - someone carting me off to a home or trying to make me live my life in a way that prolongs it/makes it easier for everyone else.

I dunno. Alcohol in excess does lead to maudlinity and lack of self-respect and is a vicious circle of decline. But it does need something to replace it. It is very hard to give up alcohol unless it is something you decide to do yourself - otherwise you just get sneaky and that is worse really.

Steve said...

Thanks for the sunshine, Kate - if it's 60& proof it'll go down rather well! ;-)

That's very true, Gina, and personally I'd rather he was upfront and honest about it... not that he's anywhere near the stage of hiding bottles around the house... but it's going to be a tough one to control without making him feel insulted or, worse, not trustworthy. I think we need to bring him on side with our thinking so that he, ideally, polices himself a little more. How we do that is another matter of course.

Ariel said...

Hmmm... this IS troubling.... it's a pity he's lonely... there's not much to be done for that (unless one could find him a new friend.... but if his vision is so poor, it limits his options ... there's not much he can do to occupy his time - can't read...). you put forth a very valid point... and then again, although it may be one's right to indulge in excesses, I think it's also the right of someone who cares to do something to curb them ;-)

Anonymous said...

Another most interesting post.

Abraham Lincoln
Brookville Daily Photo

Steve said...

Ariel, you've summed up the whole dilhemma quite nicely!

Abe, nice to have you drop by and offer positive feedback. Thank you.

justme said...

How very difficult. I hate the idea of taking away someones choices, and as RB says, if it isn't HIS choice, it would probably only make hime start hiding it anyway. Oh dear. But I don't think the ambulance coming out is THAT big a deal. Hoards of young people get drunk and use the emergancy services every weekend. People who get into trouble while climbing mountains, getting stuck out at sea, or whatever other hobby, do too. These things are a matter of 'choice' too! I expect he has paid his taxes and NI all his life. He is entitled! Though I know thats not the only issue.

Steve said...

Justme, in the end that's the conclusion I came to - he's paid his dues, he's owed. Why not "call in a few favours"?