I was pretty much a stranger to alcohol until much later in life than any of my peers. I had my first beer at the age of 23, when I travelled to Japan. Prior to that, I had never consumed alcohol as some of my family members had faced alcoholism and had medical complications as a result. Being as that I was finally controlling my blood sugars and making some headway into proper health by my early 20’s, the last thing I wanted to do was introduce alcohol into the mix.
Once I had travelled to Japan and Okinawa, where the refusal of something offered is frequently seen as an insult, I allowed myself to enjoy some drinks and came to find that there was nothing to it. In fact, I even got reasonably tipsy on a couple of occasions and never really noticed the negative effect it was having on my blood sugars. Even when I brought up the fact I shouldn’t be drinking beer to the Okinawans due to my Diabetes (which is called toonoogio in Japanese, FYI) they offered me sake instead, claiming it was better for someone with my condition. Alrighty, then…
When I returned to Canada, I slid off the rails a bit. I may have written about this before but to be honest, who remembers? So confident had I become in my newfound enjoyment of beer and alcohol, I started enjoying it liberaly, much to the dismay of anyone in my immediate surroundings. Things came too a head one night at a party where I decided to fight some guy who was hitting on the little sister of the girl I was involved with. The evening pretty much ended there and it was a bit of a wake-up call for me.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t still enjoy the occasional drink when out playing pool or something. But that first incident showed me the potential danger I could be to others and how vulnerable I was leaving myself. Things didn’t TRULY reach a head until some time later, when I was at party in the woods at a small cabin my friends had nicknamed “the camp.” This was a small , homemade log cabin built by one of our friends and his brothers and was the usual site for any social get-togethers. it’s main feature was that it had power and a wood stove, and a small fridge for storing beer and drinks.
I mean, what could go wrong? Cramming a dozen teenagers/20-year olds into a small wooden structure in the woods and let them drink copious amounts of alcohol, right? As one might reasonably expect, there were fights, arguments, uninvited groping and people drinking far more than they should then wandering off into the woods to alleviate themselves of their liquid burden. It was late fall and although there was no snow, there was a frost on the ground and it was cold. The path to access the cabin required a ten-minute walk at sober speeds and led to the house of the guy who had built the cabin.
That’s when it happened…. One of our friends, I’ll call him “Luke,” was sitting on one of the old truck benches we used as a couch and was staring off into space. When I say staring off into space, I don’t mean the kind of idle staring that you get from being bored or thinking deep thoughts about something…. I mean his head was lolled to one side and his gaze was empty and without conscious substance. A couple of us approached him and asked if he was okay. No response. I pinched the loose skin at the side of his neck in an effort to elicit a pain response. Again, no response. Then his gag reflex kicked in and he trickled vomit out of his mouth like a baby spitting up.
This was the final sign to what I feared; Luke had alcohol poisoning. When someone isn’t conscious enough for the vomit to actually fly out and it just comes out at a slow trickle, you know it’s bad! I didn’t know what he had drank or even how much. I only knew that his life was in danger and I was one of only two people among the group who were sober. I was completely sober for two reasons. The first is because I drove to the location and if watching multiple after-school specials during my childhood has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t drink and drive. The second is that I’m extremely paranoid and worry about being in the forest while intoxicated, as you never know what might happen. Who’s laughing now, everyone who’s ever told me to lighten up?
I enlisted the help of my sober counterpart and a couple of the others who weren’t falling all over themselves. Luke was a bit of a hefty fellow, to say the least, and I would never have been able to get him down the walking path and into my vehicle without some help. It took about half an hour to get him through what would have been a 10-minute walk. Time was ticking and I knew that if I didn’t get him to a hospital soon, he could potentially die. We got him loaded into my vehicle, which was a 1983 Toyota Tercel hatchback. There was only room for four people, so I took the sober guy and one other.
It was the fastest I had ever driven in my life, prior to becoming a police officer. I was white-knuckling the steering wheel and since we were on the Quebec side needing to cross over back into New Brunswick, I kept praying I wouldn’t encounter any law enforcement as Luke’s life could literally depend on NOT being delayed. I crossed the bridge to New Brunswick and gunned it to Campbellton, which was where the hospital was located. I made it there in just over half the time it would have taken, under normal circumstances.
When we arrived at the hospital, I took responsibility for Luke by digging out his wallet and finding ID and a health card and contacted his father to attend the hospital. He was wheeled into the main area of the hospital where I couldn’t follow. When his father arrived, I explained what had happened and how we came to be here. He was brought back behind the door I couldn’t access to be with him. At the time, I remembered thinking how rude it was that he didn’t thank me for saving his son’s life. In retrospect, I realize he likely had bigger concerns on his mind…
With nothing left to do and no one who needed me, I left the hospital. I dropped off my passengers and headed home. I didn’t sleep that night as my mind was occupied, wondering what had become of Luke. Had he survived? Was he okay? Was he conscious? I considered calling the hospital to ask then reconsidered since I was not a member of the family and it was likely that no information would be shared with me.
It took a couple of days for my stomach to unclench and it really only happened when I had gotten word at work that Luke would be absent for a few days to recover. We worked at the same place, in case vI hadn’t mentioned that. This meant that he had survived. It wasn’t until a week later that he caught with me at a local magazine store. I remember that I was reading an article on Wing Chun in an issue of Black Belt Magazine when he walked up. He shook my hand and thanked me for saving his life. I rather think the hospital staff saved his life, but I guess it’s a matter of perspective. He asked me how he could ever thank me and all I could think to say was, “Don’t ever put yourself or anyone else in that position ever again and we’re square.”
I moved on to different things and different people after that. The event seriously altered my perspective on the people I surrounded myself with, and the activities that I allowed to happen around me. I became the puritan who opposed the consumption of alcohol and the use of drugs in my presence. This made me an outcast in the groups I had previously associated with. But I didn’t care. I had been scared straight and didn’t want to ever expose myself to that kind of a situation again. Even today, I usually won’t enjoy a drink outside of my home. And when I do, I have my one drink and be on my way. The world is too dangerous a place to allow anything more.
I think about Luke once in a while and wonder what ever became of him. Did he change his habits? Turn his life around? The focus of this post isn’t about my intervening in the situation. It’s about how quickly one’s vices can get out of hand, often with deadly consequences. Most people will be inclined to defend their choices. But it isn’t until you’re in the mud that you realize you’re sinking. And by that point, it can be too late. Moderation is key. I often enjoy a glass of wine of a vodka soda in the comfort of my home. I do so for the relaxing effect, the flavour experience and because I feel safe at home. But i have the distinct pleasure of knowing that I‘ll never find myself in that kind of a situation unless it’s to once again come to someone’s aid. And neither should you. Food for thought…☯️