Birthday Boy

Nick’s birthday is this week. He’ll be 55 – finally old enough to qualify for residence in a sheltered housing association though it’s too late for that for the time being. He is happily ensconced in his council flat, and the bathroom adaptations and wheelchair ramp are to be installed in the next few weeks.

What would you like to do for your birthday?” we asked. He said that he would like to have a party. Well – I had already made that declaration to myself that we would be more social, bring the world to him if we needed. His list of invitees included his children (currently in the middle of GCSE mocks in Newcastle) our 91 year old stepmother, his lovely friend from the north east (whose son is also struggling with GCSE mocks) and his old school friend from London. 
With less than a week’s notice for making a trip to Sheffield on a Thursday night, I thought it might be a wee bit unrealistic. But we have invited them all anyway, with the proviso that we know they probably won’t be able to make it this time but not to feel put on the spot, we’ll have a proper party later in the year with a bit more notice and preparation time. Thursday will probably just be us and one or two friends who have been really good to Nick in the last few months.

But I have done a slightly unethical thing (or is it? I don’t quite know) and gone to Nick’s Facebook account to put a call out to all his friends and contacts there. Nick is no longer able to type or even open up his laptop anymore, I explain.  He can’t keep in touch on his own initiative but his heart still often turns to his old friends. So this is his sister posting from his page to tell you that it’s his birthday coming up and he would be so thrilled to hear from people. Please get in touch if you’d like to send a card and I’ll give you the new address.
I’ve had lots of replies – many from the wives of his old school friends, ain’t that the way, I thought to myself! - and some people didn’t even know Nick was ill let alone that he is back in Sheffield. They are all keen to get in touch and the wives say they will give their husbands a nudge to make more effort to visit or telephone. So I think I have done a good thing but I haven't told Nick so it does feel slightly weird, like organising a surprise party for someone behind their back. I just hope it pays off with lots of birthday wishes and cards to make him feel loved and connected with the wider world. 

Meanwhile, we had been talking about how this time last year I had gone to visit him in Consett and neither of us could remember what we’d done to celebrate.
All his 2017 diary entry (written by me, of course) for the day said was, “Happy Birthday! Mel visiting”
It wasn’t til much later on that I remembered exactly what we’d done. We had gone for lunch at our favourite Italian place – kind of a roadside caff from the outside, but a wonderful hidden gem once you ventured in, with the most extraordinary food. It’s a few miles out of town and back in his “going out for lunch” days Nick used to go on the bus, but since he had become more wobbly he only went there when I could take him in the car. 
So we went there, to Michelangelo’s for lunch and then in the evening Nikki and the children came to visit. We all went to Nick's favourite pub down the road and then came back and opened a bottle of fizz and talked excitedly about the campaign I’d been hatching up to raise money and awareness for the Huntington’s Disease Association. 

All good – until after they’d left and I went to bed, Nick said he’d stay up a bit longer to watch TV. That was midnight. I woke suddenly around 2am with a sense that something wasn’t right. The hall landing light was still on and I could hear Nick’s bedroom radio playing much too loud.
I was scared that he would pass out again, be sick and choke, so it was a frightening night as I tried to stay up, dozing with one eye on the open door and not daring to nod off properly until it was almost morning.
“Nick?” I got out of bed and blearily went to see if he was ok. He was lying fully clothed and flat out on his bedroom floor, squeezed weirdly between his bed and the chest of drawers. One of the drawers was hanging out and looked as if it had hit him on the head. I couldn’t wake him. Couldn’t move him. He was out cold. Was he breathing?
Thank God, his alarm bracelet was there on the table and I pressed it, then had to run downstairs for the phone – and there on the kitchen work surface was the bottle of brandy I remembered seeing when I‘d filled my hot water bottle before going to bed. I nearly screamed. It had been full at midnight. Now it was just a couple of measures short of empty. 
When the paramedics arrived they were cheerful and calm but I was visualizing hospital emergency admission, Nick needing to have his stomach pumped – a whole bottle of brandy in less than two hours! When he had already had a fair bit to drink earlier. 
But the team had him sitting up, telling them his name and date of birth and they calmly got him undressed and into his pyjamas, joshing him because he had obviously been celebrating his birthday a bit too well. 

I was scared that he would pass out again, be sick and choke, so it was a frightening night as I tried to stay up, slept with one eye on the open door and didn’t dare nod off properly until it was almost morning.

When I finally woke up and stumbled through to his room, the bed lay rumpled but empty, a radio chat show at full blast downstairs and there in the kitchen was Nick, dressed in clean clothes and bright as a button, making himself an instant coffee. That’s when I realised that he had an alcohol problem. To be able to drink as much as that and be perfectly fine the next day, could only mean that he was used to it.  
I had seen the bottles in the recycling and I always knew Nick liked a drink but I'd had no idea of the extent of it. Actually I still had no idea until he actually moved to Sheffield and I understood just how much of an addict he was. Visiting only every few weeks, I had only ever seen the social picture, not til now the whole bottles of late night brandy or the passing out cold.
So that’s how we spent his last birthday. I'm hoping that this one will end better.