Part of my job as a doctor involves routinely asking people how much alcohol they drink and whether they smoke.
People reluctantly tell me that they drink heavily, or binge drink. But before they do, they pause for a second and hesitate, as if they are wondering if they should answer the question or not. Maybe they are considering whether I’ll judge them. And this is such a common occurrence for me.
But honestly as a doctor asking this question- I’m not judging you because I actually don’t care how much you drink. You already know it’s bad for your liver, bad for your brain, blah blah blah. You don’t need me to remind you of that.
But I ask the question really to get you to 1. Remind yourself that it’s bad 2. Find out whether there’s a reason behind your drinking. and 3. Most importantly, determine whether you are engaging in any harmful behaviours when you drink.
And when I say harmful behaviours- I mean whether you drink and drive.
Every time I drive to work I drive past a spot holding flowers that memorialise young people who died there.
These are people that I didn’t know, but after their deaths they are etched into my memory.
They were and still are someone’s child, sibling, friend, cousin, grandchild, partner or relative. Their lives had significant meaning to the people who loved them. They were once young, happy and carefree. And then one day, they weren’t. Because of drunk driving. They are to me, a cautionary tale of how our lives could end without notice, even if we don’t drink.
It haunts me particularly because I have had a close call. And I think a lot of us have. I think back to one morning at 2am when I was driving home after a night out. As I approached an intersection close to home, a car came swerving out at speed and skidded onto the road in front of me. I could see the driver sitting there vacantly, seemingly unaware of the gravity of what had just happened.
It was quite obvious that the driver was out of it. Drunk or on drugs? Or maybe he had a seizure? Who knows. I couldn’t really confirm any of that without doing tests. But I assumed it was the former. His physical body was there but his mind was somewhere in the fifth dimension. And yet I was as wired as I’d ever been with adrenaline coursing through my veins. If I had been only a few metres ahead, a few seconds ahead on the road, that car would have plunged right into mine and we would have both been dead.
I think about how sad that would have been. If I had died and not gotten to live my life. How my family would have been sad. How I would have never met my husband. It would have been so unnecessary.
Just like those young people who died. Their deaths were unnecessary. But it’s not just the ones I drive past. There are more. All of it: unnecessary. And I don’t say that to be rude or disrespectful at all. I truly mean, that it was a waste of life. We could derive some good out of their deaths if it caused people to change their behaviour and prevent future deaths on the road. But sadly people don’t seem to learn. People continue to drive drunk, or continue to drive late at night without any fear. They continue to hold the opinion that ‘we can’t live in fear’ and that they ‘are good drivers’ and therefore that would never happen to them.
And while I don’t think we should stay locked in our homes forever to avoid colliding with a drunk driver, I just think that we have to exercise caution. Like, not drive late at night because statistically that’s when the most drunk driving incidents and driving fatalities happen.
And on the other hand, if we’re going to get drunk- it should go without saying that we don’t drive drunk or get in a vehicle with a drunk driver. It’s not that hard.
We need to do this so that the sad, unnecessary deaths of all those young (and older) people who died of drunk driving related incidents aren’t in vain, and in the hope that we can prevent any more from happening.
So as they say in New Zealand: Don’t be an idiot. Don’t drink and drive.
And if you are drinking to self-medicate your emotions- reach out to someone and seek help for it before this could ever happen to you.