Don’t drink and fry ... how about not drinking till drunk?

4 September 2014

Former barman and now ED nurse practitioner MICHAEL GERAGHTY wonders when Kiwis will grow out of defining a great night as waking up feeling sick with no memory of the previous night and no cash in their wallet.

I think many people in New Zealand are now cognisant of the harmful effect of alcohol and the associated social and health costs. So I was intrigued by a recent advert and campaign – sponsored by the NZ Fire Service – to reduce the incidents of  ‘drink and fry’ house fires.

The ad features three barely coherent people being interviewed on the street and stuffing their faces with burgers or paninis and advocating the benefits of having a good feed before heading home and therefore not needing to have a fry up/burn down the house later that night. All sound advice, I am sure, but somehow missing the point – isn’t it better not to be drinking to the point of excess and therefore mitigating the risk completely?

In a previous life, and whilst taking a break from nursing, I managed a bar in Karangahape Road, a trendy place frequented mainly by people from the film and TV industry (which translated to customers who often had more money than sense).

An interesting time, and having spent a number of years working in the service industry by then, I’d seen enough alcohol to turn me in to a near teetotaller. Suffice to say, dry July holds no challenge to me.  

On a simplistic level, the roles of barman and ED nurse have some similarities with respect to drunks – you spend an awful lot of time listening to utter drivel and smiling at bad jokes, learning the fine art of getting them to do what you want without getting assaulted and too often having to clean up their mess. (Ironically I got paid more in my role as barman – allowing for ridiculously large tips – than I ever did as a nurse.)

On a recent weekend, our department was operating at 130% capacity, which according to my school day maths, isn’t actually possible. At a quick glance at the electronic white board, it would be fair to say that at least 25% of those were alcohol-related presentations: predictably, alcohol-related assaults or falls. 

This population are noisy, unpredictable, and attention seeking by the virtue of their disinhibited behaviour. They distract staff and resources away from other sick, old, and less vocal individuals who deserve as much of our time as others.

Nothing new here but one wonders when, if ever, New Zealanders will grow out of the drinking culture where the signs of having a ‘good time’ is defined by waking up feeling sick, with no recollection of the previous night, and no cash in their wallet.