Life with hepatitis C: ‘They pulled the plug on my treatment’
Patrick was to be treated for the disease, but the scheme was cancelled at the last minute
‘In my mind, I thought, I’m done. So I went on the rampage and ended up on the needle.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne
“It was like being left at a stop for a bus that’s not coming” is how Patrick describes learning at a day’s notice that the treatment he was promised for his hepatitis C would not be going ahead.
“I’d been referred to and accepted for the scheme to treat hepatitis in the community with the new drugs that are available. They took my bloods and told me it would start on a Friday morning but, on the Thursday, I got a call to say the Government had pulled the plug on treatment.”
“It was a shock to the system,” he says. “There I was, mentally prepared, and I’d prepared my family too, and I was thankful I’d been given the opportunity to get rid of this disease. It was very demoralising.”
So demoralising, in fact, that he relapsed. “Just a bit. I didn’t go mad, using, but when you get bad news you think ‘what’s the point’.”
Now in his 40s and living in west Dublin, Patrick (not his real name) says he had a tough upbringing and spent time in institutions. “At the age of 17, I was dumped on the streets with nowhere to do. So I moved to London, and that’s where the heroin abuse started.”
He started by smoking the drug, but became an intravenous user after he was diagnosed with hepatitis. “In my mind, I thought, I’m done. So I went on the rampage and ended up on the needle.”
Patrick says the reason he took drugs was to “block out” painful issues in his past. After spending time in prison in England, he returned to Ireland upon release. Eventually, he began getting his life back on track, giving up alcohol and trying to get off other drugs.
The development of anti-viral drugs in recent years has made it feasible to think of eliminating hepatitis C, but only if cases in the community such as Patrick’s are treated. He was included in a pilot scheme for a 12-week course of treatment to begin last month, until the last-minute cancellation.
The main side-effect of his hepatitis is chronic fatigue. “The effects vary. You’re tired, you lack appetite; you can still look like an addict, even though you’re not.
“I don’t understand why the Government agreed to give €30 million to treat the disease and now it isn’t happening. Hepatitis is nasty, and if it isn’t treated in the community it will become widespread.”