Though his name was William Herbert D’souza, every one called him Lucky. I believe he had another name called Stonehead when he was young. How he came to be called by these names is interesting. When he was a schoolboy, while out playing, a coconut [a raw coconut weighs more than a kg] fell on his head and Herbert escaped with a mild bruise and continued playing. This incident made people call him Lucky and also Stonehead because his head withstood the fall of a coconut from that height! In the course of time the name Stonehead came to be used less and less and the name Lucky more and more. Herbert used to say that old timers who met with him after many years still called him Stonehead.
After school he did a stint in college and then like many of his community of Catholic Mangalorians, went to the Middle East to seek his fortune. Not only did he get his fortune in the form of a well paying job with an oil company but also got his future wife Daisy there. After thirty years of life, they came back and settled in Bangalore and became my patients.
Both Daisy and Lucky are no more and I have lost touch with the children. The story relating to the couple however is still very green in my memory. Lucky first came to me to get his pain in the abdomen treated. This problem of pain and burning he has had even when he was in the gulf [common term used when one referred to Middle East]. He showed prescriptions for antacids and acid blockers which he said gave him some relief. Those were the years when we had to rely on careful history and our own intusion to make a diagnosis. The only investigation we had was known funnily as a barium meal study. This was no meal and quite unpleasant one at that. We made the hapless patient swallow the barium liquid and took pictures of the liquid passing through the patient’s entrails. It did show if there was frank pathology like a big ulcer or a growth. More often than not, we missed the diagnosis unlike now when it has become easy to diagnose ulcer disease with wide spread use of flexible fibreoptic endoscopes.
Naturally the examination did not reveal any thing in particular and I told him the same as other doctors had done before. I gave him a prescription for the latest acid blocker and sent him home. He had told me that he was a social drinker and I advised him to go slow on alcohol as it was not good for people who had his problem.
It was only after three years and many consultations later I came to know that Lucky was addicted to alcohol. I had to make an urgent house call as his wife Daisy was unwell with a severe bout of giddiness. When I reached their house, I found her in bed unable even to get up because of intense vertigo. Lucky came to help me to make her sit up and he was close enough for me to smell alcohol. At 11 in the morning! How long had he been drinking? Is his chronic gastric pain due to drinking habit? I should ask him when he came to see me next. Third day the couple visited me in the clinic when she had become fit enough to move around. After finishing seeing her I asked him how long he has been drinking. Daisy answered,’ has he not told you? He is drinking for many years and mow he drinks in the mornings also. He hardly eats and gets angry when I tell him not to’.
The pieces fell into the place. The red flushed face, warm hands, muscle wasting and the prince of symptoms, chronic gastric pain. How did I miss the diagnosis for this long? Why did I believe him when he said he drank casually when there were tell tale signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse? I felt very bad that he would go to the extent of lying to keep this a secret. I told him so and asked him why in a pained voice. ‘Doctor, he said, I didn’t want you to join Daisy and father [his priest] in giving me sermon to give up alcohol’.
Here is a patient who doesn’t want to give up come what may. I had to do my duty. I told him the inevitable end and painted the ghastly but true picture of bloody death due to cirrhosis of liver. He heard me in silence and then said,’ I cannot sleep with out my drink’ that was easy enough to solve with a nightly dose of a sleeping draught. I told him if he tries to give up I would give him a prescription. He said he will try. His wife said,’ How many times have I not heard him say this’ he won’t doctor, you wait.’ They left with this pessimistic appraisal by Daisy.
After some months of trial and trabulation, Lucky gave up his drinking altogether! His gastritis disappeared and his liver recovered in about six month’s time.
Things thus stood for a couple of years and it was a pleasure to see Lucky in such good health. Then came the unexpected shock. Lucky came in one day and said,’ doc, please come home with me. Daisy is very sick’ I took my bag and went with him. On the way he was unusually silent which I attributed to his worry. I too did not speak much. We reached home and I went to their bedroom where Daisy lay breathing deeply and in some kind of a semi coma. The whole room reeked of Gin. Who has been drinking? I looked at Lucky, ‘not me, she’, he said’ pointing to the prone form. I examined her and found her in no danger and she would come out of her alcoholic stupor by evening. I told Lucky as much and asked him,’ since when she has been like this?’ He said since his recovery.
As long as he was drinking she was busy looking after him and getting him to stop drinking. After he gave up she had no purpose left and with gin handy she took to serious drinking and never even once came to see me. Was there something more that went on between them that I was not privy to? I don’t know.
I tried my best to get her off the habit. A A, Antabuse, psychiatric help, you name it, and she gave it all a try. She made many promises but did not keep them. The down hill course was rapid. She died of cirrhosis of liver with in five years. Lucky survived her by a few more years and died of a stroke.