eric the imbiber


Scene: Eric’s bedroom.

-If you’re not going to buy me vodka you can eff off.
I’m not going to buy you vodka Eric because I’m not going to contribute to you drinking yourself to death.
– It’s my choice. I can do what I like.
You’re right. You’re absolutely right. But you must admit it’s difficult for us, coming in every day and seeing you like this.
– I didn’t ask you to come.
I know, but we care about you, Eric.
– Clear off and you won’t have to.
Let me be blunt.
– Please do.
You’re doubly incontinent. You’ve been lying in urine and faeces for the past few weeks. You’ve got dreadful sores on your back, your buttocks, your legs. Any day now they’re going to get seriously infected. If you don’t die from the infection, you’ll die from malnutrition and dehydration. It’s not a nice way to die, Eric. Why don’t you let me call you an ambulance and take you to hospital.
– No!
That way you can get cleaned up, treated for your sores and things and put on the road to detox.
– I’ve been down that road my friend and I’m not doing it again.

Eric’s cat Lionel jumps up onto the bed. Lionel is a Prussian Blue, as beautiful as the bedroom is vile. Lionel rubs up against my gloved hand.

How long have you had Lionel?
– Oh! Is he here? I suppose I’ve had him about six years now. He cost a thousand pounds you know. I’ve left ample provision for him in my will.
I can see how much you love Lionel.
– I do. He’s a great friend to me.
Cats live about fifteen years or so, don’t they? More, probably. If you were to come with me to hospital, you could get better and then come back and enjoy the next ten years cuddling up with Lionel in the sitting room.
– What do you know? You’re just an ignorant fool like the rest. You don’t care about any of this. Look at you. With your fancy jacket and clipboard. Let me tell you something. You’re a very bad listener. That’s your trouble. You won’t listen. Now – will you do what I’ve asked you to do?
Which is…?
– Go to the shop and buy me some vodka.
No. I won’t do it.
– Then get out! And don’t come back.

I go into the lounge – a light and tidy room – to document everything that’s happened, and to report back to the Coordinator. Whilst I’m in the lounge I hear Eric calling a cab company. “Hello?” he says. “Eric here. Could you send someone round to do a spot of shopping? I haven’t got any cash, but I’ll give the driver my card and so on and he can fetch some money, too. Many thanks.”


Scene: Outside Eric’s flat, talking to the taxi-driver.

Please. As one human being to another. Don’t go and buy him vodka. He’s drinking himself to death. He’s lying in his own excrement. How can you bear to do it?
– Talk to my boss. Come. Here she is. (hands me his mobile)
–Hello? Who am I speaking to?
My name’s Jim. I’m a health care professional visiting Eric this afternoon. I don’t know if you’re aware of the situation or not…?
— What situation?
Eric has an alcohol problem. He hasn’t got out of bed in weeks. He’s lying there, soiled and starving, refusing all medical aid, and calling taxis to come and fetch him vodka. Now, it’s a free country. He’s perfectly entitled to do what he wants, and so are you. But I’m just asking you to think carefully before you send any drivers here. The other thing is, he’s been giving his card and pin to the drivers. This is a very vulnerable old man. Now I don’t want this to sound like a threat, but if I were you I wouldn’t carry on with this. Anything could happen, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea to expose yourself to the risk.
— Who did you say you were?
Jim. A health care professional involved in Eric’s case.
— Okay. Thank you. Can you hand me back to the driver, please?

I pass the phone back to the driver, pat him on the shoulder, and turn back to my car. A moment later, he reverses and drives away.


Scene: Handover at the hospital. A social worker comes into the room, waving a fax sheet.

What’s all this about Eric? People calling the police, the out of hours doctors, community mental health and I don’t know what else. Don’t any of you know him? He’s been like this for years. None of it’s going to do any good. This is Eric. This is what he does. He’s fine, he goes off the rails on a massive bender, he breaks down, and then he goes through detox. He does it all in his own vile time and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. He’s  a colossal pain in the arse and that’s it. He’ll refuse everything, break down, go into hospital, go through detox, go back home to his cat, and then the whole damned thing will start again. Nothing’s going to change. When he’s drunk he just wants vodka and if you refuse to get it for him he’ll tell you to eff off. When he’s sober he’s got capacity, one hundred per cent. It’s just catching him sober that’s the trick. I don’t know what the answer is, but jumping around over the weekend calling all these people isn’t it.

She leaves.

6 thoughts on “eric the imbiber

  1. It must be so frustrating for you all to see Eric seesawing between sobriety and intoxication. Alchoholism is a truly vile disease. We had a cat called Lionel. He was a British Shorthair and very, very handsome!


  2. Hi Sally

    I have to say Eric’s case is one of the worst I’ve seen, such an avoidable waste of a life.
    It’s hard to understand how that warm & social feeling alcohol gives you could extend into such horror. Addiction is a curse, that’s for sure.

    I like the name Lionel for a cat. That’s what we should’ve called ours. He seems to spend half his life Lion-around… (needs some work, but you get the idea)


  3. Hi j, such a shame, very difficult situation. You want to help because it’s in your nature to but some ppl are beyond help. Very frustrating.
    Still, at least his cholesterol will be low!


  4. Mental capacity is a difficult area, Carla. If you saw how he was living you’d think he’d be sectioned immediately. It doesn’t remotely seem like a rational decision to subject yourself to such a thing! The little interventions that we do manage to make are in the face of a great deal of abuse. Such a difficult situation for everyone – and a testament to the carers who still go in and try to persuade him to go to hospital / allow for some help :/


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