He needed alcoholic rehab. That much was obvious. The question was how to go about getting him there? While my brother had a relatively decent HMO CALPERS insurance plan, it was a Friday night heading into a weekend where no one would be available to help. The worst part? This wasn't the first time. The problem was how fast could we get him the help he needed? Would he remain patient this time or would he become angry and walk away like he has twice before?
Or would he just disappear and claim to be helping himself through it, only to end up homeless and dead on some dark street with nothing but broken dreams and wasted years to remember him by?
We're stuck with said lonely Friday night and a brother who needs alcoholic rehab. My parents call me from the road, with my sister and uncle in the car, to notify me that they're going to get him because he's not safe in his own house.
I start calling around to find an alcoholism rehab that can take him, only to find that none can, or will, touch him tonight; only one says that they can admit him tomorrow. My parents are stuck taking him back to their house for the night, where he lies about how much he's drinking and what he's been doing with himself.
The next morning, the alcoholic rehab that told me that they could help recants their story and tells me that they can't take him at all because of his addiction, so I'm back to the drawing board. I call the insurance so many times, they must know my voice and certainly seem to know why I'm calling. I lucked into one man that said he's been there and took pity on me, spending over a half hour on the phone with me, going over alcohol abuse centers and what I should do to get him there. He even recommended letting my brother drink again. Not enough to get him completely blitzed, mind you, but enough to help take the edge off his alcohol withdrawal symptoms and mellow him out so the rehab wouldn't come up with a reason not to take him.
Luckily, my brother seems to want the help, so my mother loads him into her car and heads to the alcoholic rehab facility that I found that said that they could take him. On the way there, my mother notices that he's shaking the same way he was the last time and asks him to please be honest about when he last drank and how much he's been drinking. He continues lying to my mother, but tells the intake nurse that he's been drinking at least a fifth of vodka every night for at least six months now; he also admitted that he hasn't been sober more than 30 days in 13 years.
To hear this from a 30 year old is heartbreaking and must kill my mother; after all, our parents were always honest about what alcohol and drugs can do to a person, and we've always known that we have dependency issues in our genes. I guess my brother doesn't remember the family gatherings with drunk uncles and grandfathers like I do; either that or he's chosen to forget them, since it probably makes him think too much about his own issues. My brother also admits to the intake nurse that he stopped drinking when my parents rescued him, just the Friday night before (it's only Saturday afternoon). The nurse tries to help him, but determines that his blood pressure is far too high for admittance; alcohol and high blood pressure often go hand in hand. His is almost 180/100, and since he has an HMO, they can't admit him to their detox facility unless he enters as a cash patient.
The nurse advises my mother to take him to the hospital down the road, but my brother has a seizure in the car and my mother has to pull over and call 911 for help. The medics then state that he seized at least one more time in the ambulance, yet the hospital wants to release him after a mere six hours! Now, I'm back to the phones, begging anyone for any help that they can give. The alcoholic rehab has already told my parents that they can't help them, but I try there anyway, hoping for any shred of advice that they can provide.
Luckily, God or something was looking down on us, because the person that I speak to at the rehab provides me with the documents he saved on his own computer for instances like this and tells me which hospital to call for detox and that they would take care of it all. I call the hospital, am assured that they can help, and call my parents to tell them where they need to go.
By the time my parents get to the hospital, my brother is becoming belligerent and is yelling at them, like it's their fault we can't find him the help he needs now. If he had only told the truth, my parents would have taken him straight to a hospital to detox in the first place, but he had to lie, as many addicts do.
This hospital is incredibly helpful, kind, and understanding and helps my parents through a rough four hours, then sends my parents home to sleep around 1:30 in the morning. The hospital admits my brother for detoxification and is keeping to their promise to hold him until he's stable enough to go to the alcoholic rehab.
By Monday, his blood pressure is stabilizing and he's anxious to get to the rehab for help. Of course, he won't be released until Tuesday, most likely, so he's yelling at everyone again about how he just wants the help, and we're stuck with the very real fear that his impatience will get the best of him and he'll walk away from rehab again because it didn't happen in the timeframe he's expecting.
I must question our mental health system. If legislation, both federal and state, mandate that alcoholism is a mental illness, why isn't it covered like any other disability? In some states, such as Colorado and Washington, it is; but in other states, such as Arizona or Indiana, the legislation is so incredibly lacking that patients find themselves covered for detoxification a maximum of two times per lifetime, with a maximum of 90 days for rehabilitation per lifetime. And we wonder why there are so many alcohol related deaths?
Granted, my brother's insurance is a far cry better than that, since his stay at an alcoholic rehab will be covered at 100%, but what if he needs more than 30, 60, or even 90 days? What if he didn't have a sister like me, who was willing to put family and all weekend activities aside to work the phones like a bookie taking bets for the Super Bowl? What if he didn't have parents like mine, who were willing to shuttle him around, tolerate his violent outbursts, and still stay with him into the wee hours of the morning just to make sure that he gets help? What about people that have no one and lose the desire or patience to wait for a spot in alcoholic rehab to open, or don't know where to begin searching for help?
If people are expected to find help on their own, we will remained doomed to seeing addiction destroy lives. Not only the lives of the addicts, but the lives of everyone around them. We now suffer from information overload, where every Joe who has ever picked up a beer or other drug, then managed to put it down, thinks that he or she is capable of counseling others after being sober for a year, simply because “I've been there.” We have doctors who don't have the time to truly see a patient through the hard times of detox and anger, and are instead numb to the sight of much of the problem and turn a blind eye to those that need help the most. We don't have enough rehabilitation facilities that are truly capable of helping our addicts, like the alcoholic rehab center that my brother will be entering. We need better regulation of our rehab facilities, more licensing requirements for counselors and addiction “specialists”, and much more compassion for our fellow man.
Most addicts don't even realize that the help is out there. Most families of addicts don't understand that an employer cannot fire an employee for being an alcoholic; rather, they must offer rehabilitation (if the employee shows up drunk on the job, that's another story), but most companies simply bury this and claim that they are an “at-will employer” and that they can terminate any employee at any time with no reason required. Most members of insurance plans don't realize that they do have coverage for alcoholic rehab or other help that they or a covered loved one may so desperately need. It doesn't help that if you don't know how to “speak insurance”, as my mother says, you're probably not going to ask the right questions or receive the right answers. Even if members of said plans do know what questions to ask, the person on the other end doesn't necessarily know what answers to give and can end up misleading a member into thinking that help isn't available and doesn't exist unless you're of the Lindsay Lohan class with money to burn.
We need to think long and hard about how to better treat our addicts, how to better obtain help for them, and how to better admit patients and help them to remain in treatment. Until we do, we won't see any positive changes in our addicts. After all, everyone knows an addict; whether or not we want to admit it, there's at least one in every family. If someone is able to function with their addiction, then they're among the fortunate and can hide it more successfully. It's when the wheels come off and the addict no longer has even the delusion of a shred of control that the help is truly needed, but rarely provided.
We also need to stop treating addiction as something to be discussed only in secret, in quiet, darkened rooms where no one will hear. To make it a secret is shameful; to force addiction to see the light of day and to allow others to see it takes away the stigma and helps people understand. Talk to any former addict, and I mean truly former who has been sober for years, and they'll tell you the same thing. The addict and addict's family/friends need to face the issue head-on and need to stop acting like addiction is the problem that dare not speak its name. These former addicts should be admired and heralded for their experience and their wisdom gained since becoming sober, rather than being shunned for having succumbed to drugs or alcohol in the past. These are the people that we need to listen to when it comes to reforming our alcoholic rehab system.
For instance, there is an agnostic segment of Alcoholic Anonymous Meetings. Didn't know that? It's okay, neither did I until a former addict told my mother about it and convinced my brother that he truly needs to go and learn from the meetings. We need to learn from these people how to help an alcoholic; ask them what worked for them and create a new, improved alcoholic rehab program for people to access to help those mired in the muck of addiction. We need to have these people meeting with our doctors and legislators to discuss methods, rather than casting them aside for having been down that road. After all, just because someone was an addict once doesn't mean that said person can't become sober and come out of the entire experience a better, more educated person with droves of information to share.
If everyone who knows an addict would just take a few moments to email, write, or call his or her congressman and senator, we may begin to see meaningful change in the way rehabilitation treatment is covered and approached. If not, then we're only going to keep repeating the incidents until the final curtain call, which, more often than not, will be the death of an addict that never knew he or she had a fighting chance.