Before being admitted to Nightingale Hospital in April 2020, Angela, a 56-year old mother of two, and beloved grandmother had been sober for six months after inpatient treatment at another facility for her long-term alcohol addiction.
Things began to unravel soon after Christmas 2019. As Christmas approached, Angela attended a party hosted by an alcohol recovery centre she had been attending.
“I felt so good, I was still sober. I felt really good with myself” said Angela.
On the day after Boxing Day celebrations with her extended family, Angela realised there was a six-pack of beer left at her house. Having been in treatment already, she was usually very vigilant about any alcohol in her home, ensuring family or friends took any leftovers with them after visiting.
On this particular day, with visiting family present in the next room, Angela drank a single bottle of beer.
She said to herself, “I’ll have just one and that will be it.”
Over the next few days Angela consumed all six bottles of beer, a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka. In the midst of long-standing personal debt, and an emotional cyclone of other personal issues and hardships, Angela felt herself slipping back into a dependency of alcohol.
This precipitated a downhill spiral.
“I started to pick at food,” said Angela. “I wasn’t hungry. All I wanted to do was drink. As time went on, it got out of hand. I started eating only once a day. Then as I started deteriorating, I wouldn’t eat for days at a time. I just got so weak and exhausted.”
Angela’s absence from her local outpatient recovery centre prompted a call from her old key worker.
Angela admitted to her key worker that she was at the point where she needed medical intervention. At this stage in her relapse, Angela recalled that her days consisted of a cycle of “sleeping, waking and then drinking.”
Angela remembered that she was once covered by private medical insurance. She managed to initiate contact with the insurers, before being too weak and unstable to continue her telephone enquiries. Her loving family took over, confirmed her insurance and reached out to Nightingale Hospital.
Angela was quickly connected with Dr Frankie Connell, a consultant psychiatrist with addictions expertise.
Due to the COVID-19 lock-down in place at the time, Angela’s first assessment had to carried out via Zoom.
With a hesitancy towards the use of technology in general, Angela panicked at the suggestion. However, her first meeting with Dr Connell went smoothly, and shortly after her consultation, Angela learned she was to be admitted onto the hospital’s 28-day addiction rehabilitation treatment programme.
“I thought I had won the lottery,” she recalled. “I don’t know how I had the strength, but I somehow got up and frantically lapped the living room about eight times.”
Quickly after receiving confirmation, it was time for Angela to be admitted to hospital. Saying goodbye to her beloved family, particularly her young grandson, proved to be an emotional experience.
However, Angela recalls that staff came to see her swiftly after her admission.
“I was in my room, and two minutes later the doctor came. I was still above the limit, so had to drink lots of water before I could enter the detox phase.”
As Angela settled into the hospital, she began to join group therapy sessions, an integral part of addiction treatment. Due to social distancing guidelines required at the time, a large part of the therapy programme was being delivered via live video.
Once again, her unfamiliarity with technology began to make her feel uneasy. However, with the support and understanding of the nursing staff, and the use of a tablet supplied by the hospital, Angela was soon comfortable in accessing all online therapy sessions.
“Patrick, Richard, Elmer (Nightingale addictions therapists) … They are all one-in-a-million. They taught me how to stop blaming myself. They spoke about addiction in depth. They asked us to share our stories, and to read these to the group. Everybody would feedback. It was just amazing.”
Angela attributes so much of her recovery to Dr Connell’s constant dedication and care.
“She did the world for me. If there was anything she was worried about, she would contact my GP. I didn’t have to do anything. I never had anyone but the best treatment from her.”
“Because of COVID-19 Dr Connell was in lock-down herself, but she made a special attempt to come and see me. She didn’t come into my room, but she came in so I could see her face. There is something so touching about her. She was so caring. She’s a strict doctor, she doesn’t mess about!” she recalled, laughing.
After the completion of six weeks of treatment, Angela was ready for discharge from the hospital, with a renewed hope for life and her future.
Having formed so many strong bonds with those involved in her care, as well as her peers on the programme, Angela admitted that she struggled to make eye contact when saying goodbye to the nurses.
“Fiona, ‘Aunty’ Grace, ‘Boss’ Mo, Pete, Niamh, Philipa, Nomusa, Dr Damilola … They looked after me so well. All the nurses, day and night staff, they were so fantastic. They brought me back to life.”
She also recalls the excellence of the hospital dining and housekeeping staff, making a firm point that they were not to be forgotten as a big component of her positive experience.
“Ash, Francis and the catering team…They were all wonderful. If it was a case of giving me one cake, they gave me two.”
In a poignant scene, Angela recalls her peers carrying her luggage down-stairs, refusing to let hospital staff do so themselves.
“One patient was bawling her eyes out as she said goodbye to me.”
Since leaving the hospital, Angela continues to stay strong in her recovery; focusing on her family, exercise and re-decorating her house.
In addition to one-to-one therapy with the hospital, as well as attending Nightingale Hospital aftercare groups, Angela attends AA and CA meetings daily.
During her treatment at Nightingale, Angela met Pete, a Chair in one of her AA meetings. Since her discharge, he has continued to supply her with daily links to online meetings, and has co-ordinated a sponsor for her. Once ambivalent about AA and CA meetings, Angela is now deeply committed to attending them.
“I’ve done AA meetings every single day since I’ve come home. Sometimes up to three if I feel a bit bored and lonely.”
She boasted with pride as she exclaimed, “I am now a Zoom master! Nightingale Hospital taught me about technology!”
Since being discharged, Angela returned to the hospital to present her nurses with home-cooked food.
“I will never forget that place. I’m not just saying that. I went in so broken. And I came out whole. A bit wonky, but they brought me back to life. And that’s what I have to say about the Nightingale.”
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Lead therapist for addictions at Nightingale Hospital
Dr Frankie Connell