In the hospital emergency room, you never know what you’re going to get.
Except, you can bet alcohol will be at the core of many of the trips to hospital emergency departments on New Year’s Eve.
“We take care of people who have had too much to drink all the time, but definitely tonight,” Jim Kane, a nursing shift supervisor at St. Agnes Medical Center in north Fresno, said Thursday afternoon.
St. Agnes will be well-staffed and nurses will be ready with intravenous fluids for the inebriated who are dehydrated, Kane said.
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The emergency department doesn’t have a hospital version of a jail “drunk tank” for patients who are sobering up. Kane said they sometimes could use one, and New Year’s Eve is often that time.
Patients who have had too much to drink have to be monitored, said Dr. Gene Kallsen, an emergency medicine doctor at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno.
“You can’t just say they need to sleep this off,” Kallsen said.
“We make a clinical judgment on how altered they are, and sometimes you can just watch them and wake them up and recheck them every hour or so to make sure they are waking up, but sometimes you have to CT (scan) their heads,” Kallsen said. “I suspect there will be a lot of CTs of heads and necks tonight.”
Kallsen and Kane, who between the two have 61 years of experience in emergency medicine, said they were fortunate this year in that they both have New Year’s Eve off.
It can be a hectic night in the ER.
Kallsen, who headed the emergency medicine program for the University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program for 23 years, recalled arriving at work on New Year’s morning in 1977 to a dozen semi-conscious patients. They’d spent the night in the emergency department at the old Valley Medical Center and were still passed out hours later when he got there. They all eventually woke up and were sent home, he said.
Kane, who has spent 20 years at St. Agnes, said New Year’s Eve can rival Halloween: “You get people who are all dressed up in costumes sometimes,” he said.
He’s also had patients arrive by ambulance who should have flagged a taxi to take them home, Kane said. “People lose track of their designated drivers so they will sometimes call ambulances to bring them in because they will forget where they are, and they can at least tell their family they’re at St. Agnes in the emergency room.”
Kane and Kallsen said nurses and doctors were ready to take care of patients on New Year’s Eve, but they hoped no one needed them. They’ve seen too many tragedies associated with excessive drinking.
“We see the ravages of what happens when people are drinking and driving. It’s serious,” Kane said.
Alcohol also doesn’t mix with guns, Kallsen said: “We all know the tradition of some people wanting to use firearms on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “An intoxicated person wielding a firearm, thinking they’re just going to shoot in the sky is very dangerous.”
Both emergency medicine veterans had the same message: Be careful, think of your safety and the safety of others on New Year’s Eve.
Said Kallsen: “Taxi drivers are wonderful things. Uber drivers are wonderful things. Designated drivers are wonderful things. Drunk drivers are not.”