The Reality I See as a Pediatrician in the Emergency Room

[By Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP – pediatrician @ Mercy Children’s Hospital.  8/31/2015]

A 15 year-old stumbled into my ER at 2 am, barely conscious, supported by his terrified mother. He was out with friends, dropped off at home, seemed tired, and went to bed. The mom of one of his friends just called, and her son is in another ER unconscious, poisoned by something someone allegedly slipped into his drink. "They must have done the same thing to him," my patient's mother tells me. 

I attach monitors, start oxygen, hang IV fluids, and draw a "coma panel"—a myriad of tests meant to pick out what toxic substance could have poisoned this patient. I didn't have to wait long for the answer.

Alcohol. No date rape drugs, no heroin, just alcohol. All the other tests came back negative, and the patient slowly woke up, and went home to shake off a really bad hangover. Apparently, the patient's friend in the other ER had only alcohol in his blood, too. 

The saddest part was the mom, who wouldn't believe me. "Isn't there something else wrong with him?" she asked me. "He swears he didn't drink anything." I struggled to think of a gentle reply, but I couldn't find words. Finally, I sighed and said, "I don't know how you get a blood alcohol level that high without drinking."  

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