Our First Visit to Accident and Emergency
As I’ve started to learn about the world of blogging, I’ve spent a lot of time surfing blogs with a parenting theme. There’s a lot of material about our first step, our first wee in the toilet, our first day at big school. I haven’t found anything about our first recovery from an alcoholic stupor in hospital. So here goes.
This happened a few years ago, and began when one of the Very Precious Daughter’s friends had the presence of mind to call us. I think that was quite a big thing for him, because he probably had some part in things getting out of hand. But he called us, and told us that the VPD was in a bit of a state and that we should probably come and collect her.
The first of many issues that night was the fact that it was 10.30 p.m. on Friday, our daughter was at a house party 15 miles away and I’d had too many glasses of wine to be able to jump in the car. There are no taxi firms near where we live so we had to call one from about 10 miles away. When it arrived, I took great care to explain that the whole purpose of the trip was to fetch back an inebriated 16 year old. I took some plastic bags with me, because at that point I thought that the worst that could happen was that she might vomit on the way home.
When we found the house, her friends were waiting for us. They wouldn’t let me go in to the party, but said they would bring her out. A couple of minutes later two of them appeared, supporting the VPD between them. At first she didn’t seem to be in too bad a state, but when her friends passed her over to me to get her into the taxi, she was a dead weight. We finally got into the back of the car, the VPD slumped against me, unable to communicate in any way. I was still some considerable way from realising just how serious things were. The taxi driver, however, was going through a rapid loss of enthusiasm. I have to be honest here, and acknowledge that (not for the last time that night) I was feeling more concerned for how I looked as a rubbish parent, responsible for the ills of a generation, than I was for the crisis. Not because of a lack of concern. Because of sheer, bloody ignorance.
We set off, but hadn’t got very far before she started to be sick. No great volume of vomit, but (quite understandably) the taxi driver was starting to get a bit jumpy about another half an hour of this. We stopped, I managed to haul the VPD out of the car and sat her on a kerb on a side street. She still hadn’t managed to communicate. I think the taxi driver might have suggested that perhaps hospital would be a good idea, but I then realised (accepting that we weren’t going to get home in any great hurry) that we were only a mile or so from an old friend’s house. I was loath to disturb him (it was getting on for midnight by now and he has more than enough on his plate without this kind of rubbish) but it appeared to be my only option.
So that’s where we went. I was already getting quite tired with all the lifting, but we managed to get my daughter out of the taxi and into the house. I negotiated with the cab driver about the cost of everything, paid him and tried to regroup.
My friend was great – really supportive and helpful. I then set about spending the next hour making a serious situation much worse.
Mistake one: assume that if we just wait a while she’ll come round. She didn’t.
Mistake two: take at face value the statement of a drunk friend of the VPD that she hadn’t had anything other than vodka. As it happens, this was true. But I should have questioned it much more strongly. If it hadn’t been true, heaven only knows what would have happened.
Mistake three: deploy blind optimism as your main strategy and conclude that your very sensible wife is over-reacting when she repeatedly expresses the view from the other end of a phone line that medical help is required.
Mistake four: imagine that a bit of black coffee might help. Although the VPD was in no fit state to cooperate with anything we were trying to do, what we should have done was to get as much water down her as possible.
Mistake five: the really big one. When the other mistaken strategies are having little effect, try giving her a little bit of fresh air. Disaster. With the help of my friend’s wife, I removed the VPD’s trousers as they were vomit-stained and then sat her out in the garden for a while in the middle of a fresh autumn night. By doing this, I nearly bloody killed her. What I should have done was to make her as warm as possible – because of the state she was in she was losing body heat all the time.
Mistake six: allow your shame at having a child in this state, and your belief that the emergency services have got far better things to do with their time late at night on a Friday than to look after privileged kids who have over-indulged, to delay further calling for medical help.
I don’t remember exactly how it all happened but when we did finally call an ambulance we had my daughter in the house lying (still almost completely unconscious) on a mattress in the back room. They were very concerned when I spoke to them and described the state she was in. And they came very quickly. Once they had started to put right some of my mistakes, mainly by trying to make her warm, they put most of their effort into trying to find out whether her state was due only to alcohol or whether there had been drugs as well. There were two paramedics – the male one was quite surly and aggressive (knock some sense into them type approach). The girl was lovely. They did some medical stuff (I really have no capacity for remembering such things). And after about twenty minutes I was thanking my friend and climbing into the back of the ambulance. The paramedics were not giving any indication that they regarded this as purely routine.
And so to hospital. Having done my best to persuade tragedy to pay us a visit when clearly she’d been thinking of giving us a second chance, I now became fleetingly distracted by falling hopelessly in love with the female paramedic. It may only have been a casual encounter. But believe me it was packed with meaning. She really was a total sweetheart. Blonde, local, and truly wonderful. I get like this with young women occasionally. OK, I get like this with young women frequently. It’s nothing to do with anything dodgy. It’s to do with admiration, optimism and sheer unadulterated soppiness. I imagined that if I were the dad of this young girl, I would be so very, very proud, and hoped that her dad was.
There must be limits to my optimism about medical matters, but they’ve not yet been discovered. The paramedics were clearly still concerned, but I don’t think I ever thought it was going to end really badly. I still had it in my head that at some point we were going to be made to wait a very long time, just to emphasise to us how there were many far more deserving people waiting for help that night. But it didn’t happen. The VPD was taken straight through the reception of Accident and Emergency into a bay on her own. Again the same questions – “You’re sure it’s only been alcohol?” She was still unconscious, and they quickly put her on a drip – just saline I believe to rehydrate her.
I truly hope that no-one reading this ever has to watch their child come round from an alcoholic stupor in hospital. If you can avoid it, you should. But having said that, it’s quite something. And it’s also quite funny. When the drip starts to work, it’s very dramatic, like fast-forwarding a DVD of somebody moving through several stages of sobering up. The VPD went from being dangerously comatose, to nothing more than ridiculously drunk, in what seemed like a few minutes. As she came round she started to get very concerned about the blood she could see in the tube leading into her arm, and began pulling at it. A nurse appeared, and stopped her. Like the little sweetheart earlier, this matronly rough diamond was exactly the kind of person I would have wished for at this point. She was very, very firm with the VPD. And with a fairly comic and pouting resentment, the VPD listened.
We were left alone again. Despite the dramatic transformation, the VPD was still very drunk, drifting in and out of coherence. There was a tannoy of some sorts in her bay, and at one stage an Asian-sounding voice said something over it. She sat up, and looked at me as if to suggest that I must be thinking exactly the same as her. Then she eyed the tannoy suspiciously and shouted: “Fucking Poles!”
To this day she has no idea at all where that came from. I think she’s always found it far more embarrassing than anything else that happened that night.
When at her best, my daughter is one of the most engaging people you could ever meet. And happily this is what came through as she began to sober up properly. After a couple more minor spats with the nurse, they soon established an equilibrium, and used that to move rapidly towards becoming best-friends-for-ever over the next half hour. The VPD told her how much she loved her, what a disgrace she was, and how she would be coming back to make her rich when she made her fortune. The nurse tried to give the appearance of being unmoved by this, but failed.
Following a brief moment of panic when the VPD insisted on locking herself in a toilet and then falling asleep, it was becoming apparent that the crisis stage was over, and although the medical staff remained thoroughly professional and helpful, it did now become clear that they needed to move on to more pressing issues.
We went through to the public reception and I sat the VPD down whilst I sorted out another taxi. I only had to leave her on her own for about 30 seconds. Despite being wrapped in a vomit-stained hospital blanket, she managed to use that time to approach two of the meanest, roughest looking boys I’ve ever seen with a view to becoming friends on Facebook or something similar. I intervened, guided her to the taxi and off we went. After about 5 minutes of random rambling, she fell fast asleep. She stayed that way for the next 10 hours.
The next day, the VPD was sheepish and embarrassed. But not as completely riven by shame as I might have expected or wanted. This concerns me, and we’ve since found out that going through this hospital experience is something of a badge of honour amongst some teenagers. We established that the root causes of what happened were a failure to eat properly, and VODKA. Apparently she and two friends had got hold of a bottle, and she had become concerned that she wasn’t getting her fair share. She decided to remedy this by pouring as much down her neck as she could as quickly as she could.
The Beautiful Armenian and I fully acknowledge our responsibility as parents, and that our daughter’s behaviour is in part, in substantial part, a reflection on us. We make no attempt to hide from this. But the way we organise our society doesn’t make it easy for parents. I’ve posted before about the price and availability of strong alcohol, and I note the story this week about an alarming rise in alcoholic liver disease amongst relatively young people in the north-east of England. The Royal College of Physicians have identified the price of alcohol and its promotion to young people as the cause. The drinks industry, of course, takes a different view. I know that it’s not straightforward – nothing ever is – but my experience as a parent tells me that on this one the doctors have got a very good point.