Chances are, you or a mate, or a mate of a mate, or your mate’s cousin’s girlfriend’s mate, once had to have to their stomach pumped because they drank too much blue WKD one night in a park when at 16.
On the other hand, you or your great cousin twice removed, or your uncle-but-not-your-real-uncle on your grandad’s side of the family, may have a story about how you drank so much you were up all night and the next day vomiting it back up.
What you probably don’t have a story about is drinking so much that the only way to literally save your life was to give your body even more alcohol.
It may sound counterintuitive, the opposite of what your body needs after a heavy night, but it’s exactly what happened to one man in Vietnam. He required five litres of beer to be transfused into his stomach to prevent death by alcohol poisoning.
The treatment was carried out at General Hospital in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri, when medics administered 15 cans of beer to 48-year-old Nguyen Van Nhat in order to save his life.
Dr. Le Van Lam, head of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, told local media that the level of methanol in Nhat’s blood was 1,119 times higher than the appropriate limit.
To save his life, doctors immediately transfused three cans (one litre) of beer to slow down his liver’s processing of methanol already in his system.
According to Dr. Lam, one can of beer was given to Nhat every hour, and after 15 cans were administered the patient was completely conscious.
The doctor explained that a person’s stomach and intestines continue to release alcohol into the bloodstream even if they are unconscious or have stopped drinking, and for a period alcohol levels in the body continue to rise.
Dr. Lam also explained that alcohol comes in two variants, methanol and ethanol, and the human liver breaks down ethanol as a priority.
The man fell unconscious when methanol in his system oxidised to formaldehyde – a highly toxic chemical compound that can be deadly when consumed at high levels – which in turn produced formic acid, according to reports.
To prevent oxidising formaldehyde to formic acid, giving beer to the methanol-poisoned patient gave medics enough time to perform dialysis on the 48-year-old.
Speaking about the choice of treatment, Hans-Jörg Busch, from the University Hospital of Freiburg, told Der Spiegel:
The therapy with 15 cans of beer is rather unusual, but well understood. Maybe the Vietnamese colleagues had no other alcohol on hand.
Much more important (than the kind of alcohol used) is that the therapy is immediately initiated.
Because beer contains ethanol, administering the drink to the methanol-poisoned man meant Nhat’s liver had to slow down its processing of the methanol and break down the ethanol first, giving medics more time to treat him.
While the treatment worked and saved Nhat’s life, drinking to excess and following said heavy night with 15 more beer is never something to be recommended (unless by doctor, as in this case…).
If you want to discuss any issues relating to alcohol in confidence, contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 for advice and support.
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.