it’s no secret that in the UK ambulance service, we deal with a lot of alcohol induced incidents. If we get to a call where the patient feels they’ve been waiting too long, they’ll usually say something like “Oh, I suppose you’ve been busy picking up drunks!” Not far wrong, sadly. But it’s not always that simple.

I would say that a decent percentage of our calls are for something linked with alcohol. For example, chronic liver failure caused by alcoholism causing pain, pancreatitis pain caused by the same, people vomiting blood as the lining of their stomach has been worn away by cider and other alcoholic drinks, a large number of medical issues secondary to complications in drinkers. Not to mention car crashes caused by drink drivers, people falling down stairs because they’re drunk or getting into fights because they’re, you guessed it, drunk.

My last two shifts contained enough calls where alcohol was the catalyst to warrant be posting about it. Here they are:

1) Priority 1 backup for a Rapid Response Vehicle Paramedic who has been called to a man in his 50’s who is led on his bed with a heavily reduced level on consciousness. He hadn’t been seen or spoken to in 2 days and his son has come in and found him like this. We had no medical history and there were tablets scattered around the house, but the packets were full so we weren’t convinced of an overdose. We lifted him onto our carry char, carried him down the stairs and out to our ambulance where we conducted a few other tests, then blue’d him into A&E with a  pre-alert for the resus team. We handed over to the waiting Doctor, cleaned our stretcher and kit, then headed off for another emergency.

When we returned later on, I asked the nurse how he was (thinking they would’ve scanned his head for evidence of a stroke), she told me he was drunk. Drunk. My crew mate had a cold and I can’t really smell alcohol, so we didn’t pick up on it. All of that fuss and bother for a man who was simply drunk. He was discharged later that day with a monster hang-over.

2) 999 call to an RTC. Motorcycle vs. Car. The motorcycle had turned off a fast roundabout at speed while overtaking another car. He had drifted across the white lines and scuffed the side of a car coming the other way. He was thrown from his bike and slid 100 meters down the tarmac. He had a broken finger, a nasty open-fracture (bone sticking outside of the skin) to his lower leg and, as he had a leather jacket but only jeans below, a nasty friction burn to his thigh. We gave him Morphine for his pain, stabilised the fracture and took him to A&E. On the way, he told us he was an alcoholic and had been drinking all day then went for a ride on his bike. Thankfully, the car driver wasn’t hurt and thankfully, he didn’t slide under the wheels of the lorry that was also passing by!

3) In the early hours of the morning we received an emergency. “Male with serious arm injuries and heavy bleeding after going through a window”. It turns out this man (who had been drinking heavily all night) had gotten into an argument in a pub. He shoved a man over and was evicted by the landlord who had apparently given him some verbal abuse as he did so. Once outside, he took his anger out on the pub’s window, punching it hard enough to break the glass. When pulling his arm back through, he gave himself a very deep and long laceration to his arm causing a considerable amount of bleeding. There was around 8 of his drunk friends all in the street shouting and screaming, so we got him aboard the ambulance hastily drove to the hospital.

4) About an hour after the above case, we were called to a male in a bus shelter, unresponsive and vomiting. We arrived, blue lights flashing, to find a student who was celebrating finishing his exams and had drank his weight in whisky and beer. He was very very drunk and his friend whom he lived with was equally drunk, so we couldn’t take him home as there’d be nobody to look after him. So, that left us with no choice but to take him to A&E, where he took up a valuable bed which an elderly patient may have needed. He also vomited on my ambulance floor which upset me greatly as I had to mop it out and sanitise everything after dealing with him.

5) This was the absolute pinnacle. The same night as the above two examples, called to another student who had apparently fallen with a head injury and was unconscious. He had indeed fallen, but had sustained no head injury and was actually conscious, albeit incredibly drunk. We picked him up out of the puddle of his own vomit and walked him to our ambulance. We checked him over and found that he was indeed just drunk. He lived locally so we offered to take him and his equally drunk friend home. I built up a good rapport with him and felt comfortable to give this as my final statement as I handed him a copy of our paperwork. “Take this as a reminder never to get so drunk that you need an ambulance, as it’s a horrendous waste of our time.” He nodded, took the paperwork and stumbled through his front door.

We cleared at his address and were instructed to head back to our station for a well earned break. About 20 minutes later, we were radio’d by our control to ask the address that we’d taken the last young man to. We gave it and were told that there was a young man, the same young man that we’d just taken home, had GONE BACK OUT INTO TOWN and collapsed in his own vomit again. Another 999 call was made for an ‘unresponsive male’ and another ambulance, this time a Rapid Response Vehicle, picked him up, checked him over and took him home, unaware that just 20 minutes before hand, we had just done the very same!!!!

Yep, alcohol plays a large part in emergency medicine and an even larger part in chronic treatment in hospitals for outpatients etc. I wonder when the government start fining alcohol companies for every A&E admission caused by alcohol??

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