We treated our first Spring Break casualty this morning in the Emergency Department. EMS brought us a 17 year old boy who was found unconscious on the beach. He was not in the water, but was wet. He was arousable only to deep painful stimuli. His core temperature was 33.9° Centigrade (93° Fahrenheit). His blood alcohol was 541. (A level of 80 warrants a DUI in Texas.) He had already vomited and inhaled the vomitus into his lungs. Needless to say, the patient was in critical condition, was treated emergently, and was admitted to the I.C.U.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that 4 million people with alcohol intoxication were seen in emergency departments in 2003, the last year for which statistics are available in this area. Another 2 million were admitted to the hospital with complaints related to alcohol use. In 2004, children between the ages of 12 and 20 were responsible for 142,000 alcohol-related emergency department visits.
Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States, it is the most commonly used and abused substance in that age group, greater than tobacco and illicit drugs. Over 90% of teenage drinking is binge drinking (greater than 3 drinks per occasion) and underage drinkers consume 20% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.
Our young patient is now on a ventilator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. If his brain was not deprived of oxygen for too long, he should regain consciousness sometime today. Hopefully he will be awake by the time his parents make the 8 hour trip to see him. Then, if he can fight off the aspiration pneumonia and pneumonitis, perhaps he will be able to return home in a week or so. It is impossible to predict when (or if) he will be able to return to school. Some Spring Break………….
Please be careful out there.