Initially I thought the lady was choking. I was close to rushing towards her to perform some of the jazzy first-aid moves I learnt in medical school (and become the star of the evening). But very soon it became fairly obvious that Heimlich manoeuvre & co. were uncalled-for. Dignity and self-control werewhat this woman was lacking, the consequence being shocked stares and disbelief from everyone around as she was sick all over the table right next to me on my romantic Friday night out.
Having met my boyfriend Duncan while travelling in Oceania under rather unconventional circumstances, we never really had a first date. Although we had been together for a while, we jokingly and for no particular reason, titled our Friday night plans last week our “late first date”. Everyone wishes for memorable first dates – though I’d rather go without if what dominates the evening (you can’t possibly top that!) is a woman in her 50s behaving like a pitiful teenager.
I take my hat off to the manager and his staff who handled the situation perfectly, offering us a table in a different section of the restaurant immediately and later serving complementary champagne as well as regarding it as a matter of course that our meal and drinks were on the house (which made our date the cheapest in history for Duncan!). The situation was clearly a disaster for the trendy, jam-packed London restaurant. But most importantly, I felt it was a disgrace beyond comparison for the middle-aged woman, who didn’t stop drinking when she should have.
Alcohol excesses and their unpleasant consequences have recently been debated in depth in the British media. A tax on alcohol, proposed by England’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, was overruled by Britain’s prime minister and deemed unfair towards the responsible middle-class drinkers. As Zosia Kmietowitz points out in her blog, one struggles to understand how such proposal – albeit controversial but backed by evidence and aiming to protect millions of innocent victims – can fail to be appreciated and supported by respected authorities.
The incident last Friday, however, made me consider the other side of the story. I have my doubts whether a higher price on the numerous drinks the woman downed that night would have made a difference. Would dipping deeper into the consumers’ purses instil sensibility and restraint? While this is thoroughly plausible and anything but a new notion, my first date disaster demonstrated just how desperately even seemingly mature people can struggle to refuse when offered a drink. Among students, one almost needs a proper excuse such as simulated early pregnancy or, easier to apply among friends, severe headache, to justify ordering a coke in a bar at night. How have we reached the stage where one is an outsider if they prefer to avoid humiliation and nasty hangovers?
While I believe the proposed alcohol tax could be a great step towards the protection of hazardous drinkers and their victims, I wonder how we can reach those who might not be classified as hazardous, but rather frivolous. I dream of a world where it’s hip to order lemonade instead of beer. And where I can perk myself up for a date without worrying about foolish women in midlife crises miserably staining my dress.
Eva Brencicova is a medical student in Freiburg, Germany and a BMJ Clegg Scholar