This was featured in The Guardian in June as part of the ‘day I made a difference’ voluntary sector anonymous blogs and was about a volunteers gut instinct helping an alcoholic.
Rick had once been a successful, self-employed tradesman, working hard, playing hard and spending his disposable income on upmarket cars, caravans, jet skis and other expensive toys. But, following a family trauma his drinking escalated and he became increasingly isolated. When I met him he was living in a small, rented flat and spending his savings on cider – usually 24 cans a day, more than 50 standard units daily compared to the recommended healthy weekly limit of 14.
Obviously his health – both physical and mental – had suffered as a consequence. He was often too anxious to leave his flat and would give taxi drivers his credit card and pin number to buy alcohol for him. He had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and pancreatitis. His skin had a waxy yellow pallor and his abdomen was distended by ascites – the retention of fluid in the abdominal cavity. To be blunt, his chances of long-term survival were slim.
At a small charity in West Yorkshire, my job is to support people like Rick and help dependent drinkers who have been admitted to our local hospital to take charge of their addiction and recovery. That moment in hospital is often a turning point for people and we try to take advantage of that.
I had been working with Rick for a couple of months when one Friday afternoon, following a cancellation, I found myself at a rare loose end and for some reason I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I should visit him. He lived nearby, so I told my colleagues where I was going and left the office. When I arrived I could see immediately that Rick’s health had taken a turn for the worse; his eyes were clearly jaundiced, he was confused and anxious and experiencing severe abdominal pain.
Despite his protests, I called an ambulance and stayed with him until I was sure that he was on his way to hospital. I then called the office, told them what had happened and went home. On Monday morning my manager’s first words were “good work on Friday, Rick has been in intensive care all weekend”. This was his turning point, he spent over a month in hospital where I visited him regularly and after he was discharged he attended our recovery centre to complete a 12-week structured recovery programme.
Rick has now completed over two years of sobriety, he has returned to work and remains a passionate advocate of our service – a month seldom goes by when someone doesn’t come into reception saying, “I know Rick and he says you can help me”. From a personal point of view, Rick’s story gives me hope – he reminds me that no one is a lost cause and I must never stop trying to make a difference; their turning point might be today.
Rick is a pseudonym and other identifying features have been changed.
The day I made a difference is the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network’s series that showcases the work of people involved with charities. If you have a story you want to share email firstname.lastname@example.org with a short summary of your experience.