Drink low

On the shock-trauma service, we see a LOT of injuries. About 90% of these injuries are the result of poor life choices of one kind or another: too much alcohol, driving too fast, getting in fights. A common story is the person who got drunk and fell – off the roof, over the railing, off a ladder. The care team takes bets about the person’s blood alcohol content, and everyone has a good time until the patient sobers up and starts to notice that they really did hurt themselves.

Today I met one such gentleman.

He was drinking, he fell, and he arrived in the trauma bay with a blood alcohol content of about 0.3 – nearly 4 times the legal limit to drive. He was happily telling the team about his girlfriend’s assets, and when we evaluated him we found nothing but a few broken ribs. He was one of the lucky ones (not that he feels lucky just at the moment).

I can’t help thinking of another gentleman I met who fell after drinking. This other gentleman was about as drunk, but he fell one story further and found himself with a severe traumatic brain injury. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and feed himself, and five years later he still requires nursing care and isn’t ever expected to hold down a real job.

Everyone who has been in medicine long enough has one of these stories, and many “civilians” do, too. It’s much more common than any of us would like to admit.

My supervisor’s advice? If you have to drink in excess this holiday season, avoid balconies, stairs, ladders, and even open windows. In his words, “Drink low.”

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