He was my doppelganger: where I could go if I chose drink over life. I was his advocate, supporter, commiserator. I supported him in his choice to drink himself to death, and it was one of the hardest and most meaningful journeys I have had with any of my clients. I will always be proud of the fact that I was able to bring together a team that supported his right to live life on his own terms.
“Two men walk into a bar…” You know that joke, don’t you, with its endless variations? The one that is followed by a groan, often told by your beloved dad and uncles? Well, I have a different one to tell.
Two women walked separate routes in life: painful, exhausting, circuitous. One was a model-turned-realtor, the other a doctor. They knew each other once, although they were never friends, and then they were separated by geography and time. They never thought about one another again.
I was a third-year medical student on a scholarship trying to make a few extra bucks in order to survive. So I applied for a job as the overnight lab technician at a local community hospital. My job required that I go to the ER when they called for labs, draw the blood from the patient, take the specimen back to the lab, run the tests, and then go back to the ER and deliver the results. Which was fine.
I live a "say no" life -- as to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Yet on my twenty-first birthday, I deviated from my rule and, with a group of fellow graduate students, sat at a bar and imbibed one celebratory drink after another. I cannot remember what the bar looked like, but I do recall that it was loud -- filled with voices and music -- and that it got progressively louder with each drink I had. I cannot remember what I wore on that warm August evening in Evanston, Illinois, but I can still feel the clamminess of my skin as the alcohol began to take effect. I also cannot remember how I got back to my apartment; the next morning I found myself atop my bed, my shirt stained with drops of saliva and bits of vomit.
At my college, if you were male, drinking beer earned you acceptance, admiration and praise. For some reason, drinking many beers and capping it off by violently throwing up was seen as manly.
I'm not much of a drinker, which took its toll on my college status. To this day, I'm happy sharing just one beer with my wife
I don't consider this a matter of virtue, it's simply the way I'm wired. Neither of my parents were big drinkers.
Yet in my own life and in my medical practice I've seen the impact of alcohol on others.