Heavy drinking and health module
Heavy drinking and health module
Preferred Name: Arjun
Arjun lives with his parents in Sydney. He was born in Fiji and describes his ethnic background as ‘Indo-Fijian’. Both his parents were born in Fiji too.
Arjun started drinking with friends when he was younger, and gradually over time his drinking became heavier. He never considered seeking help for his drinking, and only went to the hospital after he started vomiting blood. Arjun has several health issues with his liver, including ascites and cirrhosis, and problems with his kidneys. Arjun describes the treatment and care he receives through the hospital as very ‘helpful’, and as supporting him to make positive changes.
He began to experience frequent blackouts. Sometimes he ‘would just drop’ (pass out), and occasionally he would cough up blood, but Arjun never considered seeking help for his drinking. In retrospect, he says these were symptoms he should have paid attention to. Eventually he went to the hospital after he started vomiting blood. At the hospital he was told he had a slit in his oesophagus, which was bleeding. It was later discovered that he had ascites and cirrhosis of the liver. Over the last three years, he has had several medical procedures, including an endoscopy, surgery, ascitic taps and dialysis to treat some of these serious health issues. In 2017, he was told by hospital staff that if he didn’t stop drinking, he wouldn’t survive the year.
He felt especially moved to drink less when his parents visited him in hospital after surgery. Seeing their concern and fear for his life motivated him to stop drinking. Overall, family and friends’ concerns about his health have helped Arjun change his lifestyle. He hasn’t drunk alcohol in six months.
Arjun describes the treatment and care he receives through the hospital as very ‘helpful’. He credits the coordination and monitoring from hospital staff, along with their advice about diet and nutrition, as supporting and ‘empowering’ him to make changes. He also sees a social worker who helps coordinate his healthcare appointments and helps him manage some of the ‘stress’ associated with treatment.
At the time of the interview, Arjun was focused on not drinking because it would bring him ‘back to the hospital’. He feels like his body ‘is healing up slowly’ and he looks forward to regaining his strength and mental clarity.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] describes gradually drinking more each day and becoming ‘addicted’ to deriving ‘pleasure and comfort’ from his drinking.
And [my drinking] became gradually [heavier], meaning one or two glasses of […] wine or beer. It became more extensive than that [… up to three litres of wine and beer per day], having more and more of it, which then obviously you become addicted to that and I became addicted to that situation. So, I thought, you know, like, I couldn’t rectify it because I found the pleasure and comfort in [drinking], which was obviously detrimental to my health.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] observes that heavy drinking was a regular and normalised part of his work culture.
The other thing about [being] a chef, is so when you clock off, [drinking is] kind of part of the package. You sit there and drink. So, hence, it really didn’t [… give me a break]. During work time and everything, I was sober, but I knew, ‘Okay, we’ll clock off, we’ll all get together, we’ll have a sit down and have a drink.’ So, that also didn’t help, but in the back of my head, I thought, ‘Hey, at the end of the day, I’m still going to have a drink.’ So, it really … that aspect of it didn’t help.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] describes blacking out on the street in front of the postman, who ran to alert his family.
Within that period when I was drinking heavily, I came to [in] situations where I just blacked out. Maybe walking down the street coming back home, I would just drop. Then I noticed every time I used to cough, you know, really coughing, blood was coming out. There were symptoms there which, again, I was stupid not to pay attention to […] The biggest sign is when you black out. I’ve blacked out where the postman drove past and, he knew me, and he’s gone straight to my house, [to get] whoever […] and my mum had to come and get me. I was a dead weight, so that was another issue. I’ve blacked out a [… a few times] and that was during my heavy drinking days but, again, I never, never pursued it thinking, ‘Oh, it’ll be all right, it’s probably just a one-off thing.’
NOTE: Arjun uses the term ‘black out’ here to mean losing consciousness.
When Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] drank heavily he still experienced feelings of ‘euphoria’, as well as social benefits.
You get the euphoria, which might last for a couple of hours, but the euphoria is what you chase. [Your] sleeping pattern obviously gets disturbed, so you have alcohol to sleep better, and the other aspect of it was the social thing as well [… I would drink] with friends, you know. You know a certain company you have that you can go towards [and say], ‘Okay, time for a drink.’ So, you chase that aspect of it. A lot of it is social-based and a lot of it is just secluded on your own, and there I found a point where I can go either social or I’ll just do it on my own.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] attends the hospital around six times per month to monitor his health conditions.
Well, [the effect of my] heavy drinking has been spewing up blood, and obviously they found […] my oesophagus […] had a slit in it, which was [bleeding… ] And they rectified that situation, but then from there, [other situations arose]. I had to come in again because I started to have dehydration issues. Things [… of that manner], where they needed to put certain things in place, and [I’ve had] it all done now. [I need] constant monitor[ing] from the nurses here and, obviously, my specialist, I have to see her as well […] because the other aspect of it was the kidney; because of the liver, [an issue with my kidney] started to arise. So, hence I had […] a temporary dialysis, but [the] biggest concern was how to maintain the kidney. So, [I had a lot of] blood tests, [I]see the nurses and [I] keep going with that process.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] explains that receiving treatment through a clinic in a public hospital is convenient because there is coordination between his GP and the clinic and the different services within the hospital.
All my files and […] records are here. They know exactly what they’re doing in terms of [thinking], ‘Okay, we’re going to get you in for this, this, [and] this.’ [If] I go to my GP, if there’s a serious matter, she will always refer me. ‘Okay, you’ve got to go into ER.’ […] Yes. I mean they can refer me to different sections – getting pathology done and things like that. But it’s […] within the [one] system and I don’t have to go here and there, back and forth. [I] just come here, [and] get it done, and it’s sorted out […] I found that, with the nurses, because they were there 24 hours a day and they knew my situation […] that was a really helpful thing to go through. Because at least you have them 24 hours [a day], while family members or friends [are only there for an] hour or so […] I found a lot of support there.
Arjun [late 30s, Indo-Fijian, unemployed but previously worked as a chef, no drinking in last six months] underwent an endoscopy and experienced life-threatening side-effects from a liver biopsy.
I came into hospital in 2017 […] vomiting blood. I got that rectified [and] had [an] endoscopy done just to seal the bands again [on a gastrointestinal perforation]. Then about a year later, I had a tap put in my body and, at that stage, I was basically told I wouldn’t [live] past the New Year’s. I wouldn’t survive it […] I had many specialists come and visit me. They did a biopsy on my liver. I had a side-effect from that where I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t, like, do anything, then they automatically put the mask and everything on me to provide oxygen. Then they realised, okay, it was from the biopsy. Then they recycled my blood for the kidney […] The thing also was when this situation was happening, literally I was considered dead. But, every morning I woke up, and I kept moving forward and I surprised a lot of the specialists [in] what I’ve achieved. Now it’s more of a stable condition.