4 March 2019

Letter from GOD: How to really hurt yourself by having fun

Grumpy Old Doctor RedHerring

Another letter to my daughter from her somewhere-out-there GP father

Dear Julia,

Have discovered social gatherings in country towns can be tricky. Before accepting an invitation it’s wise to know what you are letting yourself in for – understanding the difference between a “Do”, a “Show” and a “Turn” is critical.

A “Do” is an informal gathering with no dress code, often held by sporting clubs. The venue is mostly outdoors, no ticket is required (although there may be a small cover charge) and some form of live entertainment is provided. You will be able, and expected, to purchase alcohol.

A “Show” is a more formal event for which you need to dress well. It will be held indoors – say the town hall – and you will need to pre-purchase a ticket. You will be seated for defined periods of entertainment and there will be no alcohol.

A “Turn” is totally informal and takes place at a private residence. You will be invited to “just turn up”. Loud recorded music and some food, often barbequed, will be provided but alcohol is usually BYO. A party, such as a 21st or a 50th, held at someone’s house is a “Turn”.

The function that Annie and I attended at a local golf club recently was a “Do”. We were entertained by a trio singing popular hits from the 60s and 70s, the beer and wine flowed freely, and we warmed ourselves by roaring fires in 44-gallon drums. Men talked, women danced and a glass or two was broken.

There was only one minor injury; a drunken golfer tumbled backwards off his chair and just missed the fire. All quite convivial and civilised  –which is how the ute muster was supposed to be – but the evidence in the emergency department painted a different picture.

An endless conga line of casualties from a bespoke gathering for 18 to 25-year old males dedicated to hurting themselves. It was the Olympics Of Self Harm featuring three main events. 

First up was the very popular “How To Break Your Ankle”, open to all drunk males wearing at least one piece of R.M Williams apparel.  There were many creative entries but I gave the gold to “Fell Over In The Wheelbarrow Race”. “Got Stood On By A Bull” took silver and “Tried To Jump A Rope” bronze, with honorable mentions to “Wrestling A Mate” and the ever-popular “Jumped Out Of The Back Of Me Ute”.

The second event, “Paths To Unconsciousness”, proved wildly popular. 

Open to all comers with a Glasgow Coma Score of three to 12, the field was exclusively male with most contestants choosing the conventional excess-alcohol route.

Some added other (unspecified) drugs while the winner decided to really mix things up. He started out with cocaine before adding alcohol, got dropped on his head in a friendly scuffle then became so agitated and aggressive that he had to be sedated with intravenous haloperidol and midazolam. Arriving at ED with a GCS of three, he was a clear winner, woke up well three hours later and returned to the fray.

It was chilly at night so the third event, “Freestyle Burns”, was hotly contested with some putting in that little bit extra and adding accelerants.

Backing up to a roaring blaze when drunk is a sure-fire way to burn your calves if wearing shorts, or your back if your alcohol-soaked shirt ignites. Helping things along by throwing petrol on the flames is a good way to singe the face and fingers. 

For truly spectacular results try spitting a mouth full of petrol onto the fire. You will achieve your aim of “being like a dragon” before finding that your moustache has gone (forget about Movember this year) and that you have won first prize – a general anesthetic and a free flight to Sydney. 

This young man also took out the coveted “Most Creative Injury” award, closely followed by an older bloke who broke his scapula in the lawn mower race, and another who almost blew his hand off with a firecracker.

It really was a lively weekend, but I was relieved to get back to a smaller town and tend to injuries caused by farmers indulging in ordinary sober – but – stupid behaviour; like welding without goggles and unblocking an auger without first turning it off. 

Not that all self-harm in the country takes the form of mechanical injury; there can be a price to pay for bad habits and poor lifestyle choices. 

Mark was described as a “mad smoker, drinker, womaniser and a complete bullshitter, but was a great bloke”. He was only in his 40s when a stroke took away his speech and left him in a nursing home with a life so painful that he “finished the job” with a piece of rope, a chair and a sturdy light fitting. His only escape from self-harm was more harm.

Women sometimes, but not often, hurt themselves too. There was one female casualty at the ute muster, a young lady requesting the morning after pill on the Sunday.

Some don’t damage themselves, life does it for them. Ron started smoking at 14 and working in the mines at 15. At 75 he has “buggered lungs”, gets around in a gopher and makes do on the pension.

The arthritic pain, poverty and breathlessness don’t distress Ron as much as a deeper torment. Fifty years ago, he found his infant son blue and cold in his cot. Despite knowing that his boy was “dead as a doornail” he called an ambulance in hope of a miracle.The police arrived too. Ron was accused of murder and spent the next two weeks in jail before being released with no explanation or apology. 

The hurt you don’t go looking for or deserve can be the hurt that never goes away.

Don’t play with fire.

Love, Dad.

Dr Max Higgs is a former country GP, a current rural and remote locum and a collector of stories

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4 Comments on "Letter from GOD: How to really hurt yourself by having fun"

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Amy Filicietti
2 months 2 days ago

Wow! Excellent story..Love your humour Dr Higgs

Sally-Anne Sherman
2 months 14 days ago

Dr Higgs your rural stories in outback towns never fail to amuse but always an underlying message to me told. Don’t stop writing, your dry sense of humour and excellent story telling quite makes my day!

Chester Wilson
Chester Wilson
2 months 15 days ago

Just brilliant! I am printing it off to show it around in towns in SW Qld.

Jan Orman
Jan Orman
2 months 16 days ago

What a heartbreaking article Dr Higgs! I smiled til I cried.