Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seven Years Ago Today, I Slipped Into A Darkness Called Wernicke Enecephalopathy

I am very much alive, and I'm really happy about that.
   July 1, 2005 could easily have been the date on my  head stone. That isn't my name on the head stone above, obviously. What's a little eerie is that I happened to see the above photo today of all days.
   Wernicke Enecphalopthay, also called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, or Wet Brain, and a few other names, is a serious illness most often brought about by alcohol abuse. It can kill. It certainly changes lives, and almost never for the better. Wernickes is about thiamin -- vitamin B1. It's a vitamin most folks don't have to worry about, but if you don't have enough of it, your brain stops functioning properly. Sometimes it stops functioning, period.
   For whatever reason, mine didn't stop functioning.

   July 1, 2005 was a bad day for my wife. I spent all but a few minutes of it in what was probably a coma. I hadn't felt well for months before that. Not quite sick, but not well. The only memory I have of that day is the sound of my wife on the telephone in the next room. I was in bed, and she was talking to the poison control center. I thought the cats had eaten a houseplant or something...but she was talking to them about me.
   I describe the illness, from the patient's point of view, in my book called Green Goblin. If you look around this blog, you'll find a long sample of Green Goblin. It's also available from this link:
   I'm grateful I got sick. Seriously! I was on the verge of losing everything to my drinking. It's scary to think about, but can't be denied. I don't dwell on it, but I don't let myself forget about it either.
   Today I got up in time to see the sun come up. I do that a lot, regardless of time of year. The sunrise is symbolic, as well as beautiful. On this day, July 1, I always feel like the pheonix of legend. I feel like I rose from my own ashes; arose a better man.
    Sadly, not many come out of wernickes to live a normal life. Most end up needing someone to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Considering the disease usually hits in middle age and doesn't shorten lifespan, that can be a very long time. The ability to form long term memories is the biggest hurdle to living a normal life after wernickes. I don't know why I came out as well as I did. I wish I did know, because then I could help others overcome this thing.

   I'm grateful I got sick because, sadly, I think getting sick is what it took for me to quit drinking. If you're struggling with alcohol, please be smarter than I was. Get help. Don't worry. That's as close to a lecture as I'll give.

   In any case, I always reflect on the illness, what got me there, and the miracles that got me out of it, on this day. For me, July 1 is my independence day. It is the day I crossed into darkness. It is the day that by crossing into the deep darkness of that illness, I was able to make the decision that I wanted to live this second chance to the fullest. It hasn't been easy. I quit drinking. My wife and I moved to her hometown, a place where I had few roots (but many friends). I left my good, salaried job, and took a part time job cleaning bathrooms. I re-assembled my brain a piece at a time. I started writing books.
   In short -- I learned how to live, and love life and all its grins and warts.
   Make it a great day, my friend!

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