A guest post by a Byron’s Hero who will go by Ada Lovelace (Byron’s daughter, and so much more in her own right) here on the blog! I know many of us can related to Ada’s issues. I can’t drink because of my medications. Still people persist. They push that “Just one drink can’t hurt”. Also many cultures have a tradition of drinking tied to social and business occasions. It can be almost impossible to work in South Korea and not socially drink with your co workers. Thank you Ada, and I hope we have many more blog posts from you!
I don’t drink alcohol. I can’t. If I do, I get really, really sick.
I have a condition called Clostridium Difficile, or c. diff. I sometimes think of it as c’est difficile. In 1986-1987 I was seriously ill with a mystery disease which eventually turned out to be a birth defect in my gall bladder. This was before these blessed days of endoscopy, and I had major surgery. After the surgery, I was catheterized which lead to a urinary tract infection, which was treated with Keflex.
After I was released from the hospital, I stayed with my parents for a few days to build up my strength. On the second day out, I developed excruciating back pain. It felt as though someone had taken a red-hot pair of needle nose pliers and was squeezing my lower spine with them. I screamed. I cried. My parents panicked. I went back to the emergency room, and was admitted while the doctors tried to figure out what the hell was going on. My own doctor was on vacation, and meanwhile I was treated with anti-diarrheals, pain medications, and lots of liquids to replace what I lost in severe and constant trips to the bathroom. Already weakened from the six weeks it took them to diagnose the gall bladder thing and the six weeks of recovery from the surgery, my weight dropped to 90 pounds and I honestly began to think I was going to die. By this time it was February and it didn’t help to find out that Andy Warhol had died of complications from gall bladder surgery.
My doctor returned and, being the smart one in the bunch, accurately diagnosed me with c. diff., probably instigated by the Keflex.
Over the next couple of years, between the lack of a gall bladder and the c. diff., I had the excitement of finding out what I could and could not ingest. Pineapple (yum!) and melons (meh) were out. I could never tolerate cabbage anyway, so that was no problem. After the second Passover aftermath in the ER, my doctor requested that I not eat Passover food; matzoh seemed to wreak havoc. I haven’t kept Passover since, to the horror of some family members. High fat foods are a no. Garlic is very iffy. Most antibiotics triggered severe attacks. And alcohol was absolutely out.
I had never been much of a drinker. The occasional beer or glass of wine with friends was pretty much as far as I went, but now it was no alcohol ever. The last time I tested this was in the late 1990s when I went to Rehoboth Beach with my friend Lauren. We were neither of us partiers, but we decided to go out to a bar, and dammit, I was going to have a drink. A few minutes after I finished it, I said to her, “Wow, this is having no effect!” She congratulated me and soon after, we went back to our hotel to crash. Two hours later, I was in the bathroom, trying not to cry too loudly. It wasn’t my severest attack, but it was enough to scare me off drinking forever. It could well be that the condition has now receded enough for me to drink, but I’m not going to experiment.
Which brings me to my wine loving relatives. My siblings, who have seen me in the throes of an attack understand why I refuse all wine. The younger generation get it. The relatives by marriage not so much, especially one who is very proud of his wine cellar and loves to serve its contents.
Every time I go over for a gathering, the wine bottles come out and the comments start. “Want a glass of wine, Aunt Ada?” “I guess you’ll finish this bottle for us, huh?” I’ve explained patiently and repeatedly that I would hold him responsible for rushing me to the hospital if I actually did have some wine, but he continues to find amusement in it. It makes me want to go down to the wine cellar with a hammer.
C. diff. can cause fatalities, but my case is nowhere near that scale. I don’t even think of it as a disease or handicap, more just as an inconvenience. My worst temptations are pineapple and garlic, although small amounts of garlic don’t really hurt much.
When I first developed c. diff, it was an unusual diagnosis. It is now more common, although not really widespread. There is now an experimental cure for it. They are still experimenting in Canada, and it’s not available in the United States as yet. It is a fecal transplant. Sometimes the cure sounds worse than the disease. I’m not planning to take action until the FDA puts its loving arms around the idea.
People, when someone says they don’t or can’t drink, accept it and move on with your lives.