‘I’m one drink from death’
Thursday 12 January 2012
When mum Joanne Patterson was diagnosed with chronic liver disease, she was told one more drink could kill her.
For three years she had downed up to three bottles of wine and eight cans of lager a day – a staggering
45 units, over three times the recommended weekly limit of
14 units for a woman.
Even more shockingly, she cared for her three children – Dale, now 22, Louis, now 14, and Ella, now seven – while under the influence of alcohol, even picking them up from school inebriated.
But two years ago, Joanne, then only 39, was told her excessive boozing had caused irreparable damage to her liver. She has now stopped drinking but, over the past 18 months, she has spent 300 days in hospital and must take 100 tablets a week just to stay alive, costing the NHS thousands of pounds.
Doctors have warned Joanne, from Sunderland, that her liver could fail at any time – leaving her children without a mum.
She says: “I put alcohol before my children. I feel so guilty. They know I’m very ill and it’s heartbreaking. The other day, Ella asked: ‘Will you die if you have one more drink?’ I had to say yes.”
Joanne speaks out after recent statistics revealed that hospital admissions for people in their 30s with alcoholic liver disease have risen by 61 per cent.
“People need to know drinking can be harmful,” says Joanne.
“I never thought I could die.”
Joanne had always drunk socially, but following the breakdown of her relationship, when Ella was two, in 2006, she started going out more.
“I drank because I felt I had missed out on life because
I became a mum so young,” says Joanne, who had Dale at 18.
“I was bored. I wanted a break and to let my hair down. My mum looked after the kids on Friday nights so I’d have two glasses of wine at home, then about eight pints of lager when I was out.”
Things soon began to spiral out of control when Joanne began drinking during the day.
She says: “I began opening a bottle of wine at 3pm on weekends, while the kids played upstairs. It relaxed me and I loved the taste. I’d finish the bottle while I made tea. Once they’d gone to bed, I’d open another.
“I didn’t get hangovers – just
a fuzzy head sometimes – but
I thought I could still be a good mum. I wasn’t thinking about the effect it was having on my kids.”
Jobless Joanne’s boozing rapidly increased and she confesses that, by 2007, she was downing up to three bottles of wine and eight cans of lager a day. She would start drinking in the morning while the boys were at school and Ella was at nursery.
“I was lonely, and it became a habit,” she says. “I’d ‘lose’ whole days at a time and not be able to remember anything.
“I’d get the shakes if I hadn’t had a drink for a while. I went down to less than 7st because
I wasn’t eating properly.”
Naively, Joanne insists her children “adapted to her boozing” and that they always had food and clean clothes.
She says: “They became independent at an early age and Dale helped with the younger ones. They didn’t get upset. My mum told me to stop drinking, but I was in denial.”
Shockingly, Joanne, who spent up to £70 of her £150 weekly benefits on booze, did the school run when over the limit.
“I’m embarrassed to admit it,” she says. “I’m thankful nothing happened. The head once asked if I’d been drinking. I admitted I’d had
a glass. He didn’t ask again.
“I think they realised I had a problem though – I’d drink a can of lager before parents’ evening to stop my shakes.”
But, in December 2009, Joanne’s health deteriorated. Her hands and stomach became swollen and she suffered excruciating stitches. In hospital, doctors broke the devastating news that her liver was failing.
She recalls: “The hospital flushed chemicals through my body to get rid of the toxins. I was put on drips and given drugs, but my body was breaking down. Seeing my kids upset at the sight of me was heartbreaking.
“A doctor told me that if I had another drink I’d be dead. My liver would be unable to cope.
It was the wake-up call I needed. I had to choose life over drink. My three kids needed a mum.”
Remarkably, Joanne managed to go cold turkey. Knowing that one drink will kill her, and the damage it has wreaked on her body, she hasn’t touched alcohol for two years. She now attends a clinic for recovering alcoholics.
“I was so ill, I couldn’t face a drink, so resisting wasn’t hard,” she says. “I knew that if I had one, I’d be playing Russian Roulette with my life. I couldn’t do that.
“Now I mainly socialise with my family. I go to the local pub once a week with a neighbour, but I just drink tonic water.”
But the damage has been done.
She says: “My stomach lining has haemorrhaged three times, which made me collapse, and I’ve spent over 300 days in hospital.
“I take tablets to keep my blood pressure down, and beta-blockers to slow down my heart rate – if blood pumps round my body too fast, my liver could burst. I also take morphine for pain relief, antibiotics and vitamin B.
“Ella often wishes I wasn’t poorly. That makes me feel guilty. But the kids don’t cry or get angry with me. I explained what an addiction means and that I didn’t mean to hurt them. I love them.”
Joanne can’t be added to the liver transplant list because her liver is currently stable – but that could change at any time.
“I have between six and 15 years before my liver gives up,” she explains. “I’m now working on being a good mum and making up for lost time with my kids. Life is too precious to lose to alcohol – I’ve learnt that the hard way.”
By Jocelyn Cook & Richard Gribbin