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© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., November 1945
codeine, chloral hydrate, Luminal, Seconal, Nembutal, amytal,
these and kindred drugs have killed many alcoholics. And
I once nearly killed myself with choral hydrate. Nor is
my own observation and experience unique, for many an old-time
AA can speak with force and fervor on the subject of "goof
an infrequent suicide, nobody uses these drugs in the expectation
of death. To many alcoholics, still in the drinking stage,
they represent blessed relief from the agonies of a hangover.
of us, perfectly sober for months or years, contract the
habit of using sedatives to cure insomnia or slight nervous
irritability. I have the impression that some of us get
away with it, too, year after year, just as we did when
we first began to drink alcohol. Yet experience shows, all
too often, that even the "controlled" pill-taker
may get out of control. The same crazy rationalizations
that once characterized his drinking begin to blight his
existence. He thinks that if pills can cure insomnia so
may they cure his worry.
a word about the use of morphine by physicians. Sometimes
a general practitioner, not knowing his patient is already
loaded with barbiturates, will give a morphine injection.
A friend of mine died like that. Sober about three years,
he got into an emotional jam. Pills led to alcohol and this
combination to still more pills. His doctor found an excited
heart. Out came the needle and a few hours later out went
a very good friend. Another close friend, sober three years,
also fell on evil days -- pills and liquor. At the end of
about three weeks of this diet he was placed one evening
in a sanitarium. Nobody told the doctor there about the
pills with which his system was already loaded. The patient
was "eased" with a shot of codeine. Before daylight
he was dead.
the end of my own drinking career I had an alarming experience.
Chloral hydrate was prescribed for one of my terrible hangovers.
The doctor warned me to stick rigidly to his dosage, but
I kept possession of the bottle. While my wife slept quietly
beside me, I reached under the mattress, took out the flask,
and guzzled the whole business. I had a close shave. Moral:
When a doctor gives a legitimate sedative prescription,
don't let the alcoholic have the bottle.
a matter of fact, our friends the doctors are seldom directly
to blame for the dire results we so often experience. It
is much too easy for alcoholics to buy these dangerous drugs,
and once possessed of them the drinker is likely to use
them without any judgment whatever. Sometimes his well-meaning
friends, unable to see him suffer, hand him pills themselves.
It's a very dangerous business.
even dangerous to give a suffering alcoholic a drink if
he is already loaded with pills. Years ago, I had an experience
of this sort. We had an "alkie" in tow whom I
shall call Slim. He finally had consented to go to a hospital.
On the way he had a few -- but only a small quantity compared
to his customary capacity. Just before we reached the hospital,
Slim's speech suddenly go very thick and he passed out.
I had to get a porter to help him to a cab. As he could
usually manage a couple of bottles a day when active, I
couldn't understand this performance at all. Arrived at
the hospital, Slim was still slumped in his seat and I couldn't
move him. Our good friend, Dr. Silkworth, came out and peered
in the cab door. One look was apparently enough. Said he
to me, "How is the man's heart?" Confidently I
replied, "He's got a heart like an elephant. Told me
so himself. But I don't see how he got drunk so fast. I
gave him very little liquor." Out came the doctor's
stethoscope. Turning then to me, he said, "Not much
use bringing this man in here. He can't last long. What
else has he been taking besides liquor?" Stunned, I
replied, "Nothing, that I know of."
gingerly an attendant carried Slim inside. Out came the
stethoscope again. The doctor shook his head, saying, "This
poor chap has been loaded with barbiturates for days. When
you gave him alcohol, even a little, it fired off the accumulated
charge of sedative he had in him. See how blue he is? His
heart isn't really working much. It's just jittering. I
can't even count it."
doctor rushed to the phone and called Slim's wife. To my
horror she confirmed the fact that he had been taking heavy
doses of amytal for about ten days. The doctor gently told
her she had better hurry, else she might be too late. Then
he called a famous heart specialist for consultation and
told him to hurry too. They laid Slim on a bed upstairs.
The great specialist came and drew out his stethoscope.
At once he looked very serious and, motioning us out into
the hall, he said he would leave a prescription but that
he did not think my friend could possibly live through the
night. Dr. Silkworth agreed.
the proceedings I had been praying as I never had prayed
before. After the two doctors had pronounced the death sentence
on Slim, I told them of my prayers and explained, cheerfully
as I could, that I had been reading Dr. Alexis Carrel's
book, Man the Unknown, in which prayer was described as
effecting miraculous cures. The great specialist took his
leave. Dr. Silkworth and I went downstairs to wait for the
prescription to come in. A boy finally brought two capsules
from the drugstore. The doctor looked at them, saying he
hated to give them, they were so powerful. We went upstairs
and as we stepped off the elevator we saw someone coming
down the hall jauntily smoking a cigarette. "Hello,
boys," roared Slim, "what am I supposed to be
doing in here?"
so long as I live, shall I forget the relief and astonishment
which spread over the doctor's countenance as he quickly
tested Slim's heart. Looking at me, he said, "This
man's heart is now normal. Fifteen minutes ago I couldn't
count it. I thought I knew these alcoholic hearts pretty
well. But I've never seen anything like this -- never. I
can't understand it." What miracle saved Slim, no one
can say. He left the hospital in a few days, without ill
effects from his experience.
for me -- well, I guess I learned my lesson then and there.
No more "goof balls" unless the doctor says so
-- not for me. No, thank you!
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., November 1945
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