One Saturday morning back in July, I woke up feeling just the same as I did every Saturday morning: badly hung over due to indulging in ‘just the one’ pint too many during my weekly Alvor Sunset cocktail bar Friday quiz night, facing an 8am start at work, followed by the usual ‘hairs of the dog’ on the way to siesta and eventual recovery. But not on this particular Saturday morning.
I had already noticed that I was having difficulty focusing on my book – I get to read seven minutes each way on the bus, longer when it’s running late, and, at the moment, Stig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, first in the Millennium Trilogy, is gripping me even more the second time around – and by 11am, I was also having trouble getting my second Superbock down – unheard of!
A lie-down was called for and I staggered home to bed. When regaining consciousness roughly two hours later, I could not get up – as soon as I put my feet on the floor the whole room started spinning so violently that any further attempt towards achieving an upright position proved impossible and I ended up crawling around the house on all fours much to the delight of our two cats, Tommy and Cally, and, subsequently, extreme concern of my girlfriend Rebecca.
I gave it 24 hours, but things did not improve. Saturday having turned into Sunday, options for seeking immediate help were somewhat limited and Alvor’s Hospital Particular was closest at hand. I managed to somehow slide myself along our building’s walls into the lift and then car, completing the journey into emergency admissions with the help of a wheelchair 10 short minutes later.
Things proceeded very quickly thereafter – it’s amazing what money can buy – initial assessment, blood and urine tests, ECG, CAT scan and the final diagnosis delivered three hours later by a very competent but merciless doctor.
Although there was nothing definite that could pinpoint the direct cause of my condition, she strongly suspected that extremely high blood pressure (180/110) and elevated blood sugar levels caused by excessive alcohol consumption coupled with bad cholesterol had finally ended my 40-year-plus spree of living the ‘good life’ by triggering a series of mini-strokes in the back of my head.
According to her, I was a walking time bomb just waiting to explode and only immediate action would give me any chance of ‘enjoying’ a good few years more. We returned home via the pharmacy somewhat sobered (and considerably poorer!) and I began taking various little tablets – and not just in the short term.
Ten long days later, I took the first tentative steps into the outside world, initially with the help of a cane, mostly for moral support and, soon after, returned to almost ‘normal’, although the sky is still spinning a little and, most of the time, I feel like I am walking along the deck of a gently rocking boat – but I am sure that will change for the better too.
When I say ‘back to normal’, my life is now a different kind of ‘normal’, of course. Do I want to go out with a bang, or face some hard truths? Just off the top of my head, I have lost almost a dozen friends and acquaintances over the past two post-covid years here in Alvor alone.
One way or another, I miss Richard H, David M, Fred S, Chris J, Huub J, Mick B, Mike W, Michael C, Mickey D, Mick from Tipp and Knut the gentle Viking very much, but I am not ready to join them at the big bar in the sky yet.
Roughly 125,000 pints of lager, that averages out at eight or nine a day over 44 years, plus quite a few binges thrown in for good measure, half a million cigarettes or cigarillos – 30 to 40 a day since I was 18 – and 50,000 cups of coffee later, I’ve come ‘clean’, literally overnight, and not touched nicotine, caffeine or alcohol since July 15 without much effort, to be honest, or, apart from sleeping a lot, any of the physical or mental side effects forecast by the draconian doctor. I merely made a decision, which in no way involves half-hearted measures such as, to me, abhorrent vaping or the disgusting taste of alcohol-free beer.
The hardest part of my ‘new’ life was to stop my various regular watering holes pulling me a pint before I was even through the door. In the end, I sent Rebecca ahead to order me my now usual orange juice and lemonade, naturally sparkling mineral water with a lemon twist or coke.
By now, Alvor’s bar staff have been reprogrammed and I enjoy what I am drinking, ice cold on the rocks – and there are no more hangovers! The ‘change’ is not really a change, I mean, I never missed lager and cigarettes before I started drinking and smoking, did I?
The open secret is just taking a fresh outlook on life without what are, let’s face it, stimulants and legalised drugs. I have regular breakfast instead of an espresso and smoke now for the first time in 30 years and I’m loving those cheese and ham croissants!
There is no longer that compulsive, somewhat nervous rush to finish restaurant meals or end pub conversations in order to get outside for a smoke; no more standing in the rain or freezing cold in winter with fellow addicts convincing each other that we, they are the only real people; changing trains no longer involves a few desperate drags on a half-smoked ‘fag’; bus stops are not ‘smoke stops’ and I no longer sit through an otherwise enjoyable long film praying for a break. I now have time, real time – for myself and for you.
My sense of smell has returned and is just amazing. I can tell when someone is lighting up six tables away at our local café (and not mind!), my revived taste buds make all my favourite dishes twice as tasty, well worth the extra pounds I’m inevitably putting on, the previously unnoticed stink of my hair and clothes is no more and I positively sprint up steep inclines known as ‘cardiac hills’ around town – welcome to my new, old, still fun life!
By Skip Bandele
|| [email protected]
Skip Bandele escaped to the Algarve almost 25 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.