| print this
PROGRESS, Vo1. 32: 293-296, October, 1951
CARE OF ALCOHOLICS
Thomas Hospital and A.A. started a movement
which swept the country
Sister M. Ignatia, C.S.A.
Administrator, St. Thomas Hospital, Akron, Ohio
12 years ago, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous,
Dr. Bob was on our staff. He was a skilled proctologist,
and was on our staff five years before we knew that he had
a drinking problem. We would not have known it then had
he not volunteered the information.
Bob often discussed the problem of alcoholism with us, with
regard to auto accidents and other tragedies caused by excessive
drinking. Many of these cases had to be admitted to the
hospital even though they were intoxicated. After talking
with members of the families of these compulsive drinkers
and realizing the suffering brought into the homes of these
afflicted people because of drink, we became deeply interested
in the plan which Dr. Bob unfolded to us.
was in 1939, just about the time we were trying to pull
out of the depression. Hospital beds were at a premium,
without any prospect of adding to our bed capacity. There
was very little enthusiasm around the hospital about admitting
people who were imbibing too freely in those days. However,
prompted by the grace of God, we very cautiously admitted
one patient, with the diagnosis of acute gastritis, under
the care of Dr. Bob. The patient was placed in a two-bed
room. The next morning Dr. Bob came to the admitting office
very timidly and requested that the patient be moved to
a spot where the men who came to visit him might talk with
him privately. The only available space we could think of
was a small room across the hall called the "flower
room," where patients' flowers were changed and arranged.
We pushed the alcoholic's bed into this room. It was there
that he received his first A.A. visitors. The men who came
to visit him were such respectable, dignified - appearing
men that we could hardly believe they had ever been addicted
then set aside a two-bed room, then a four and later a six-bed
room ward. Today our A.A. ward has eight beds, adjoining
a corridor which serves as a lounge. The corridor opens
into the gallery of our chapel.
alcoholic ward is not a great problem. It is simply a large
room with accommodations in one end for eight beds. The
other end of the room is a small lounge with comfortable
chairs, a davenport, A "bar" a coffee urn, and
an ice-box. To the rear of this ward-lounge is a room with
a lavatory and shower into which the new man is brought
for admission to the ward.
important point is that he is helped out of his street clothes
and into hospital attire by other patients in the ward.
The advantage for the new patient is that, from the first,
he is in the care of understanding friends. The advantage
for the older patients who perform this duty is that they
are thus able to see themselves again as they were upon
admission. Administratively, an economy is effected by thus
eliminating the need for hard-to-get employees.
across the hall from our ward-lounge is the choir-loft of
our chapel, which permits A.A. patients to hear Mass every
day if they wish and to make visits in hospital attire when
they so desire - all in complete seclusion. Bearing in mind
always that the alcoholic is a person who is sick spiritually
as well as physically, the ready access he is thus given
to the source of spiritual healing is a powerful factor
in his recovery.
return to the mechanical operation of the ward, it can be
stated that it is almost wholly self-operating. A nurses
aid comes in to make beds and an A.A. employee does the
heavier cleaning. The cleaning of ash trays, the making
of coffee - the coffee urn is in operation 24 hours each
day - the washing of coffee cups, all of this is done by
the patients themselves. Usually they welcome these small
opportunities to busy themselves and thus keep their minds
off their problems. Activity eliminates brooding, and the
volume of such work is never great at any time.
function of the lounge is to provide a place where the patient
can chat with A.A. visitors and listen to informal talks.
A secondary value, but a most important one to the former
patient, is that by visiting current A.A. patients the former
patient helps to perpetuate his own sobriety. It is axiomatic
that the alcoholic is never "cured"; his ailment
is simply arrested but it is positively arrested if he perseveres
in the program. The visitors' lounge (which is supplemented
by chairs in the hallway that divides the ward from the
choir loft) helps not only to aid the current patient to
sobriety but also to preserve and perpetuate the sobriety
of former patients.
icebox is kept stocked with food and particularly with milk
and citrus juices, for the alcoholic is frequently an undernourished
person. The patients are encouraged to eat at will. The
coffee urn and bar are the A.A. equivalent for the brass
rail and bottles of the drinking days.
A.A. visitors perform a multitude of chores for the current
patients. Sometimes they secure a job or effect a family
reconciliation or pacify a creditor pressing for payment
of a bill. These and other services are done by A.A. Is
for the dual purpose of Showing true Christian brotherhood
and as a means of perpetuating and insuring their own sobriety.
begin where reality begins for the alcoholic. Reality for
the alcoholic is drinking. It is most important that the
approach be made through another alcoholic - a sponsor.
The sponsor speaks the language of the alcoholic. He knows
"all the tricks of the trade," because of personal
of us who have anything to do with admitting these patients
would do well to have the humility to rely upon the judgment
of the sponsor. Let him decide when the patient is ready
for the program. We do not accept repeaters! Sponsors know
this, hence they are very careful to qualify the person
before bringing him into the hospital. Above all, he must
have a sincere desire to stop drinking. Wives, relatives,
friends, and well meaning employers may try to high-pressure
the alcoholic into accepting the program. Someone may even
persuade the family doctor to use his influence with the
hospital, so that the prospect may be admitted into the
role of the sponsor is not an easy one. He leaves nothing
undone to clear away all the ill feeling, indignation, and
resentment that have accumulated in the path of his patient.
The sponsor acts as a catalytic agent in combating all adverse
forces. He tries to appease an exasperated wife, talks with
the employer, landlord, creditors, and others. He explains
the program, tells them that this is not simply another
"sobering up process." This time he is being treated
not only physically but morally and mentally as well. The
sponsor assures them that with God's grace, their cooperation
and the help of his fellow A.A.'s, his charge will be given
a real opportunity to make a complete recovery.
Patient Admitted To The Hospital
registration the sponsor escorts his patient to the A.A.
ward is virtually self-governing. Two or three of the senior
patients in the ward take over and welcome the new patient.
They check his clothes and prepare him for bed. (Many of
these patients are in such good condition that they sit
in the lounge and join in the conversation). Nothing is
left undone to make the new man feel at home. This reception
inspires hope in his heart. It also gives the A.A. patients
a splendid opportunity of doing twelfth-step work, namely,
alcoholic is ill, in body, mind, and soul; hence we begin
with the physical care.
day - The Day of Realization
physical condition of the patient is usually much improved
on the second day. His mind is beginning to clear. He feels
encouraged because everyone seems interested in him. Visitors
call on him, telling him "This is how I made it."
Some of the visitors may be men with whom he used to drink.
The power of example is a great example to the patient.
He begins to say to himself. "If he can do it - so
can I. But how am I going to make it?" At this point
he generally has a "heart to heart talk" with
acknowledges his utter powerlessness over alcohol. He honestly
admits that he has tried innumerable times to drink normally
and has always failed. He is finally ready, honestly and
humbly, to admit defeat. His sponsor is delighted to know
that his patient is really honest about his drinking. The
sponsor says "Good! We can help you since you are humble
is the grace of God at work in the soul of the patient –to
admit helplessness and to seek help outside of self. This
may be the first time the patient has admitted the fact
that he is powerless to help himself.
next step is humbly to turn to God: "Ask and you shall
receive." Patients have often said that is the first
time they sincerely prayed. The "Our Father" takes
on a new meaning at this point. They feel that they really
day - The Day of Moral Inventory
patient makes a searching and fearless moral inventory.
He faces the past honestly, admits to God, to himself, and
to another human being the exact nature of his wrongs. He
is finished with alibis and reservations. "I am an
alcoholic, what a joy to be honest! The truth will make
you free." Now he is sincerely asking God's help and
the help of his fellow man.
Day - The Day Of Resolution
us this day our daily bread." This is interpreted by
the alcoholics to mean, "I surely can stay sober today."
This is usually followed by an act of complete surrender
to God. The past is finished. "I am heartily sorry."
"I'll try to make amends." This means confession,
repentance and firm purpose of amendment. Many Catholics
return to the Sacraments after years of negligence. Scripture
says, "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner
doing penance than 99 just who need not penance." He
used to drink because he felt like it. He permitted his
emotions to run away with him. Now, with God's help and
the help of his fellow A.A.'s, with his clear thinking,
he can control his feelings and emotions. Reason now governs
his life. Strong convictions are given him as to why he
cannot take that first drink. He has learned from his fellow
alcoholics that it is more blessed to give than to receive,
and that it is a privilege to help others. What a joy too!
He is kept so busy helping others that he does not have
time to even think about a drink. What a transformation
takes place in the lives of these men and women!
Day - Plans For The Future
he leaves the hospital he must now face his problems. The
way has been paved by the sponsor. The future is in God's
hands. He has learned to say "0 God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change
the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
He is urged to guard against pride, self-pity, resentment,
intolerance, and criticism; to attend meetings, to do twelfth-step
work, and to visit the hospital.
leaving the hospital the patient is given a Following Of
Christ by Thomas A Kempis. During his stay in the hospital
he learns the significance of the Little Sacred Heart Badge.
He requests one, with a thorough understanding of conditions
implied: that it must be returned before he takes the first
From All Over Nation
have hospitalized well over 4,000 A.A. patients at St. Thomas
Hospital. They have come to Akron from Alabama, South Carolina,
Michigan, Maryland, Texas, and many other distant parts.
They would not have had to travel so far if their local
hospital made it possible for them to receive the program
and finances prohibit many from making such a long trip.
Many may be forced to accept treatment under less favorable
circumstances. Our policy is not to accept alcoholics for
re-hospitalization. We've learned from experience that in
institutions where the majority of the inmates are repeaters,
the program is defeated for the new man, because it creates
an atmosphere of pessimism and discouragement. The patient
often gives up in despair. It might have been quite different
if he had been given the proper exposure to the program
in a spiritual atmosphere as provided in a local Catholic
Anonymous is a tremendous movement. According to figures
from the New York office, new members are registered at
the rate of about 1,500 per month. At present there are
about 112,000 active members and some 4,000 chapters scattered
throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, and
36 other countries.
priest once told me that the A.A. program is the most fruitful
source of conversions. It is perhaps the best means by which
the work of the hospital can be interpreted to the community.
It gives the hospital a good name not only with the reformed
drunkard, his family, friends and neighbors; but the whole
community can point to something constructive which the
hospital has done. These people are seeking truth; in other
words, they are thirsting for God.