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Dying by the bottle 2: A piece on liver cirrhosis

Dr. Akin-Onitolo A.

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…Continued from episode 1

The last time we met, Which was barely two months after the first, Mr Emiko was spent. His words escaped between gasps, frail hands grasped mine as if his next breath depended on his holding them tight. There was that knowing in the depths of his eyes. If I could hear him, he would have said, “it’s okay, young lady, stop fussing.”
My nose zinged with pain and the flurry in my chest would not stay still. I cannot watch this happen, my mind screamed. Oh! His wife stood there, fist buried in her mouth to strangle painful moans. Her eyes were dizzying pools but she did not let them spill. And me? I wanted to run, to find my pillow or some other comfort.
I had invited her to a brief the day before, along with her daughter who was bearing the financial costs of everything. “Please sit down,” I requested. “You do know what is going on, right?”
They nodded affirmation.
“I’m so sorry, I wish there was something more we could do to take all of this away.”
She did not cry but her eyes were overflowing with sweet and sour memories, hurtful words she had overlooked, disappointments she had forged a path through, insults she endured as she wheeled him to hospital every other Thursday. None of these mattered at that point.
“We are doing our best to make him as comfortable as possible. The albumin did not bring the improvement we had hoped for.”
“And I told him o,” she said.
I looked at her for an explanation. She recounted, with her gaze fixed on the spot above my head as if reading her words off the defaced wall, how she had cautioned him over the years to give up the habit which usually led to quarrels. He had tried twice, almost succeeding the first time but crawled back as if drawn by a noose. I merely nodded, anxious not to destroy the moment with an ill-timed word. I wanted to stress the harmful effects of alcohol but no words could sink deeper than the sight of their wasted husband and father.
So when it happened, she was prepared. Not even the matron had the heart to ask her to leave the ward while we did what needless CPR we could. My lips quivered as I struggled to stay composed, the final words flowing from the tip of my pen to paper. He gasped until he stopped at 17 minutes past 4pm. The end of a nine-year long fight. My feet led me home with the setting sun at my back and my spirits low.

Note: CPR = Cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Alcoholism (dependence on alcohol such that a person 1) feels he/she needs to cut down on alcohol, 2) gets annoyed when confronted about the habit, 3) feels guilty about drinking, and, 4) needs a drink to function optimally) is a quite common and serious problem. It puts one at risk of liver disease which Mr Emiko had, heart problems, many cancers, even intoxication and bleeding in the digestive system seen as vomiting or stooling blood.
Alcoholism can also affect the brain and cause mental problems, as well as disturb the normal development of pregnancies causing the baby to be mentally retarded (foetal alcohol syndrome). It is a leading cause of motor accidents and unnecessary deaths. The main treatment for alcoholism is abstinence (choosing to not take alcohol). This is usually a tedious process but is achievable with determination and support while avoiding situations that pressures one to break back into the habit.

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Dr. Akin-onitolo A. is a graduate of the University of Lagos whose mission is to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) using health promotion and improved health literacy. She is an MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor who had her elective at King's College London. Hugely interested in travel, meeting people and generally being creative, reading and writing fiction are a few hobbies you could find her engaged in during her spare time. Catch up with her on Twitter @Akinonitolo and Instagram @t_onitolo