“Don’t drink” they say, “You’ll damage your liver” they say. What does that even mean??? You may be sitting there supping your drink in a beer goggled bliss. But it won’t last forever. You really don’t know what damage you are doing to yourself. Yes this is a drinking lecture, but it’s not just any old lecture. This is me telling you my experiences of alcohol related liver disease. So beer goggles off, this is the cold, hard truth. Just a note to my family and friends, don’t feel that you have to read this if it is to difficult. This is to try to help and educate others.
I was always the one who could handle her drink. I was always the last one standing. Not that it was ever a competition, I have good, responsible friends. One thing that I didn’t realise is that being able to handle your drink is not a good thing. Having a big night and not getting a hangover, is not a good thing. It means that your body is used to that amount of alcohol. If you drink regularly then it is harder to get drunk because your body learns to tolerate it. So if you’re out for getting drink then you have to drink more. So over time the level of alcohol that you can tolerate gets higher and higher.
I was drinking regularly. I had just got used to coming home and having a drink. It’s easily done. Over time I found myself drinking more and more until it eventually took over my life. It took over me. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to do anything. If I was to venture out of the house I was always looking forward to having a drink later. When they say alcohol is a depressant and you think that they are talking a load of rubbish… they’re not. You just don’t realise how much better the same life can feel without alcohol in it. I got stuck in a hole of believing that alcohol made everything better, there was a drink for every occasion, good or bad. But it doesn’t make everything better. It just makes everything a million times worse. Drinking responsibly then yeah maybe, I’m not anti-alcohol. I am just anti-drink so much that you turn into a walking wine/beer bottle!
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The things that they don’t tell you.
There are no early warning signs
I’m sorry to say that on the outside you may appear to be able to handle your drink. On the inside it is a completely different story. There are no early warning signs of liver damage. When you start to get symptoms it is too late. Damage has already been done. My symptoms were:
- My hands and arms were extremely shaky. I struggled to keep my food on a fork, it just wobbled off.
- I had absolutely no appetite. I ate food because I had to.
- I couldn’t keep food down. The smell, the taste, the texture of food just made me so sick.
- I had no energy
- My skin had a yellow tint to it
- I felt toxic. This one is very hard to put into words, I think it is one that you have to experience to understand, but hopefully never will. My breath and my body just felt like it was pumped with chemicals that were bubbling away inside me. Every single part of my body just felt pure poison.
At this point my liver was failing.
You can end up in a critical condition
Two days after I was admitted to hospital I was in the critical care unit. I had absolutely no idea that I was so unwell. I knew I wasn’t right, but I just thought that I felt rubbish. I had no idea that I was that close to the edge. I was pushing the limits in every possible way and I didn’t even realise. My liver was failing and toxins from it were whizzing around my body and to my brain. That explains the chemical feeling. I also had pneumonia. I was put into a medically induced coma.
I can remember some bits of being in the coma. They varied the levels of sedation that I was on depending on how stable my condition was. I was told afterwards that when you are under deep sedation, you don’t have any awareness or memory of anything. As they reduce the sedation I started to move a little and hear people, and dream. Ohhh the dreams. I had a lot of dreams which I still remember now. Very vivid, horrible dreams. They went on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Let’s face it, I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. So they just carried on for what felt like forever.
You know on the telly when somebody comes round from a coma and everything is fine, they are up and out of bed and home in time for tea?
That is the BIGGEST load of rubbish EVER!!!
As I said before, they vary the levels of sedation. So I didn’t just “come round” like they like you to believe. It happened very slowly and gradually. I had been on a ventilator to help me breathe. This is where they put a tube down your windpipe and you are connected to a machine. So when the tube was removed, my throat was really dry and sore. I couldn’t talk, at all. I could only do a quiet whisper if I really forced it. It took a few weeks for my voice to even start to come back. I tried to write things on paper but I just couldn’t write anything readable. I couldn’t stand it. A lot of pens were thrown accross the room. I managed to do that perfectly.
I was attached to machines in just about every way possible. I had an oxygen mask, a sats peg, about four canulas, blood pressure cuff and things on my legs which squeeze them to keep the blood circulating. It was a hot summer and all I wanted to do was get up and go for a walk and a wash. They kept saying I wasn’t well enough to. All of the basics were covered from the comfort of my bed, food, drink, wash, toilet. I didn’t need to lift a finger. They wouldn’t let me lift a finger. At first I wasn’t even allowed food or drink. If I wanted to wet my mouth I had to use mouth wash or suck in a piece of sponge that had been soaked in water. The only thing I was able to do was lay there. They did let me have music on though. I have never appreciated music so much in my life. When I was in a lighter sedation they played me music as well to keep me relaxed and more comfortable.
For quite a few weeks after coming round I was very paranoid, confused and having hallucinations. Apparently it is a common after effect of being on a ventilator. They always say that hallucinations are when you see strange things, or things that aren’t there. For me it was so much more than that. I was living in a world that only I could see. I truly believed that my hospital bed was in the back of a car and that we were driving around the hospital grounds, because there were not enough beds inside. I knew I was really unwell so this really scared me because there were no nurses outside. Just me and the driver. And he never said a word. I only ever saw him from behind. Everyone kept telling me that it’s ok and they can see me, but it didn’t make it any better. They wouldn’t be able to rush outside to me if they had to, you can wait twenty minutes for a lift! Deep down I knew that this couldn’t be real, it was ridiculous. Health and safety would never allow it. But that didn’t help because it felt so real and it was me who had to live in that world. There was no escape. I just had to wait for it to pass. This could take days, then a new surreal world would appear. This is just one example, it would take too long to go through everything. Eventually I came to realise that I had to trust everybody was doing their best for me and telling me the truth. The person that I shouldn’t trust was myself. That is a really hard thing to do. Trusting our own minds and thoughts is our default setting. We may not always be right, but our thoughts are usully valid and realistic and trustworthy. Having to think twice about your own thoughts and believe others over yourself, about everything. It is extremely hard. I was on medication for quite a while for this. My mind returned to normal and I eventually was able to come off the medication.
If you don’t use it, you lose it
I had been stuck in bed for about four weeks, tied to every machine that the NHS own, or so it seemed. When i was well enough to get out of bed two nurses came to help. I thought that’s a bit extreme, I’m only walking two steps to that chair. They untangled me from all my wires and told me to shuffle to the edge of the bed and put my legs over the side. They said I would be a bit wobbly at first. Yep… they were right. They held on to me while I slowly tried to stand up. As soon as I left the bed I just flopped like a rag doll. My muscles in my legs had completely gone. I couldn’t put any weight on them at all. The nurses were either side of me literally holding me up. I managed to stand, fairly quickly but walking was a whole different kettle of fish. I managed with a lot of help to take the two or three steps to the chair. I sat there and I just couldn’t believe how not using your legs for a few weeks could do that. One thing was for sure though, I was not going back in that bed for any longer than I needed to. I was out and I was free! Couldn’t walk anywhere, but I was freeee!!! It took a lot of practice over many weeks but eventually I learned to walk properly again.
As a result of having to stay in bed for so long I got blood clots. I had two on my lungs and one on my leg over my stay in hospital. I was put on to a blood thinning drug which I didn’t react well to. I had three life threatening bleeds.
Looking to the future
The day I was taken to hospital I was expecting a bit of a telling off and that I would be home in a few days, or weeks. I did not leave hospital until three months later. A quater of a year! I definitely never saw that one coming.
Leaving hospital was not the end though. It was the beginning of a new life. A life of liver disease, a life of being unable to have any alcohol, not even a sensible amount. A life where every six months I have to have an ultrasound scan on my liver. A life where every three years I need to have a gastroscopy to check the blood vessels in my throat. A gastroscopy is where they put a tube down your throat. The tube has a little camera on it so that they can see inside your throat and gastric system. For me that is the worst test of them all. Even with sedation I panic and they struggle to do it properly. Every six months I have to see my liver consultant and have blood tests done. I never thought that a simple blood test could scare me so much. Not because of the needle like a lot of people, but because of the results. That one liver function blood test scares the hell out of me. I am on quite a lot of medication now, six of those tablets are for my liver.
I don’t really know what the future holds… I don’t want to know. I just know that now I have stopped drinking I am doing really well. And I am truly grateful for every single day of my life. Because they are days that I very nearly never had.
I was only 25!
I was only twenty five years old when I was in hospital with alcoholic liver failure. It’s not like I had lived a long life of drinking. I drank a lot over around four years. And that was all it took. I will forever live in fear of accidently having alcohol. I will forever live in fear of my own liver. Right now my liver seems to be on my side and it is doing well. But in the back of my mind I will always be terrified that one day my liver will give up on me.
Think before you drink
Please just think before you have a drink. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of drinking more and drinking to much. Every drink you have, your liver works hard to get rid of it because it is not supposed to be in your body. So why are you putting it in? As I said before, there are no early warning signs. I also read a while ago that your liver does not give you pain, because it has no nerve endings. So don’t be fooled, your liver won’t give you a kick in the stomach or a bit of a twinge when it has had enough. It will just struggle on until it gets damaged. You can feel pain from a damaged liver as it gets bigger and puts pressure on the other tissues around it. I fell extremely lucky, I survived and my liver is recovering. But I very nearly didn’t.
It is NEVER too late to get help
I wouldn’t recommend leaving it as late as I did. Liver failure is not a pretty sight for anybody involved. But if you are getting symptoms of liver disease, don’t ever think that it is the end. In some cases the liver can repair itself over time, if the person is prepared to work for it. It is the only organ that can do this. So it is always worth getting help.
There is one test that you can do on yourself, it is one that I still do today, six years on. I do it every so often for reassurance and when I do it I feel proud of myself. It is a way of showing myself how far I have come.
Put your arms straight out in front of you, with the palms of your hands facing away from you and your fingers pointing upwards. Don’t support your arms or hands in any way, just keep them there. Are they steady, straight and still? Or do they wobble and shake? When I was taken to hospital and they asked me to do this test, my hands were shaking like jelly and flapping. If you are concerned about your alcohol intake and your hands are shaking when you do this test, I would recommend that you see a doctor. It could be many other things, but just to make sure.
Here is a link to the NHS website for more information on alcohol related liver disease. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/
Words can never describe how grateful I am to the people who have looked after me. But I would like to say a massive thank you to Professor Gleeson, the Hepatology department and also the Critical Care Unit in Sheffield. They have saved my life on more than one occasion, and have been looking after me since 2013. Thank you as well to my wonderful family and friends, for always loving me and taking care of me.
You never gave up on me, and thanks to all of you I am still here today and loving my life more than ever. 😀
Xx ❤ xX