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Alcohol-fuelled New Year's celebrations end badly

Sunday 1 Jan 2012 4:39 p.m.

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By Brook Sabin

The country's busiest emergency department saw its fair share of New Year's Eve horror.

Admissions at Auckland's Middlemore ranged from a 12-year-old in a coma to a man who severed an artery in his arm after he smashed a window.

The 12-year-old was is so drunk his body had succumbed, and he'd fallen into an alcohol-induced coma. As he was wheeled into the resuscitation room his condition was listed as status one - critical.

He vomited repeatedly as emergency staff worked to stabilise him. But drunk children in this state are not uncommon.

"Over the last six months I can think of three children I've seen under the age of 14 like that," says Terri Prest, emergency medicine consultant.

"It makes you think about the whole family structure and what's happening to our kids out there."

As midnight approached and then passed, the start of 2012 went unnoticed. There's nothing much to celebrate, en-route another status one patient who'd severed an artery.

He'd put his arm through a glass door and lost two to three litres of blood - almost half the blood in his body.

It was a tense few minutes as the resuscitation team waited for blood stocks to arrive, and minutes later they did, and he was prepared for a much-needed emergency operation.

Just next door was a man also with significant cuts from glass.

"In the second emergency room that's going on, there's a chap who has fallen through a plate glass window after imbibing in a small amount of alcohol, I understand," says Matt Clarke, emergency doctor.

Middlemore is the country's busiest emergency department and at the weekends, 30 to 40 percent of all admissions are alcohol-related.

Tonight lives up to that

Another man had his jaw broken when he was attacked by a bunch of drunk teenagers. A girl has an injury simply listed as "head versus brick".

"Tonight was actually not as bad I expected it to be," says Ms Prest. "It might be because of the weather, has put off a lot of parties, and people aren't out as much."

But Middlemore has broken a record.

"We've had a very busy year, we're going to hit the biggest numbers we've had ever," says Ms Prest. "I believe the projected number of patients will be around 100,000 through over the last year."

What's most frustrating for those working in emergency departments is tens of thousands of admissions each year could be avoided if, like in the case of the 12-year-old, alcohol wasn't abused.

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