Monday, April 20, 2009

Opinion: 'Party Like It's the ICU'

Something I wrote an awfully long time ago.

I recently spent several hours in a public hospital emergency waiting room on a Saturday night. I prepared myself for the unavoidable paranoia that comes from sharing breathing space with a room full of strangers in various states of illness and disarray. I calmly accepted that I would wait it out in an uncomfortable chair to a soundtrack of screaming infants. This was all to be expected.

What surprised me about this particular clash with our buckling health system wasn’t that I saw a doctor not once during my seven-hour stay. My situation being far from dire, I had known I was in for a steamy all-night threesome with outdated magazines and vending machine coffee. Despite this, actually admitting defeat and returning home at four in the morning, sans medical assistance, was somewhat of a pain (read; freakin’ annoying!) What I didn’t anticipate was what kept me pushed further and further back in the waiting line.

The mind reels with macabre tragedies that might fill an early morning Brisbane emergency room. A three-car pile-up on the Story Bridge. A reclusive psychopath’s 2am stabbing frenzy. A freak smelting accident in the making of a late night snack. These were the kind of blood-and-guts disasters I’d been naively expecting. Instead, come midnight, the young girls started to stumble in, looking like a disco ball threw them up. Teetering in their high heels, the cackling groups would prop up their downfallen comrades. By three in the morning, the once passé waiting room looked like the hippest place in town to be severely intoxicated.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never indulged our current binge drinking culture. Unless you’re part of the monastery, chances are you have too. So naturally, watching the first few party martyrs sail past that elusive door which promised medical care, I felt a twinge of empathy. As the hours wore on my ability to feel compassion tapered slowly away. I witnessed an absurd number of drug and alcohol related hospitalisations that night, and it became obvious that hospital beds were quickly filling up with girls who just wanted to have fun.

I sleepwalked over to the Triage Nurse to check my standing in the perpetual waiting list, and overheard her speaking to a co-worker. “Here comes another one”, she said. In staggered a lone club-girl. I couldn’t help but wonder how the hysterical young lass, who soon became quietly fascinated by a nearby baby, had managed to transport herself to the emergency room. When I was able to speak to the nurse she told me flatly to save my time and go home. “It’s always too busy on a Saturday night,” she said, cocking her head towards the intoxicated blonde cooing incoherently to the child of a wary father.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I didn’t get to see a doctor, but there seemed something very wrong to me. You hear constantly how the younger generations are binge-drinking, hedonistic, slackers who leech off their parents. We very well may be. At the very least, there is a common mentality that our tendency to drink until we pass out in seedy public toilets is somehow normal. But I don’t believe it’s properly understood where this attitude comes from. What I saw was the sad consequence of a culture that is insistent on having fun, and so used to overindulging that it seems only natural to drink to excess as well. A few drinks out with the girls is one thing. After all, alcohol is widely seen as a social utility, with the ability to bring friends together. But let’s face it. When girls are wheeled into hospital in a state of semi-consciousness, how much fun can they possibly be having?

By Anna Angel

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