Appearances Are Deceptive

In grandfather's room

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7327.1496 (Published 22 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1496

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. A M Clarfield ([email protected]), chief of geriatrics
  1. Soroka Hospital Centre and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel

    My maternal grandfather lived until the age of 111. He was lucid to the end, but a few years before he died, the family assigned me the task of talking to him about his problem with alcohol.

    My aunt, with whom he had lived for the last 20 years of his life, had been a healthfood fanatic for as long as I could remember. She was considered somewhat of a crank when I was a child, but as the 1960s approached and we all started joining her in eating bean sprouts, she gained respectability. Being a teetotaler, she was worried about my grandfather's desire to indulge, three to four times a day, in a drink of his favourite whisky, fretting that he was about to become an alcoholic any day.

    Graphic“Never get excited, go for a walk”

    He could not understand her fears and would slip himself a few drinks above and beyond the watered-down ration she would dole out each evening before supper. I was a medical student at the time and not yet conscious of my future role as a geriatrician. However, because I represented the closest thing to medical authority, I was delegated by the extended family—my parents, two siblings, eight uncles and aunts, 11 cousins, various dogs, cats, and birds—to “speak to Zayde” …

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