There was a poster on the staircase of the small provincial Northern hospital. It showed a woman in a doctor’s white coat at a party. The caption beneath asked, “In an emergency, could you sober up?”
It had always a slightly threatening air about it. Was the poster saying that doctors should be permanently on call? That even in their off duty hours, they should be prepared for a moment when the phone might ring calling them to critical action.
And, if this was the case with doctors, did it apply to others as well?
There was an expectation that if someone was dying, the clergyman should be called. Did it mean never drinking, even on a day off and out for a meal with friends?
And what about people in other jobs, those in roles more critical than plodding country parsons? Wouldn’t there be a whole list of people who might need to sober up in the event of an emergency?
The presence of a poster in a prominent place in a public hospital presumably indicated that there was a problem that needed to be addressed. How many more similar problems exist?
In a country, where drink is part of the national culture; indeed, where drinking is advertised as a reason for people to visit the country; how many situations are possible where people needed for duty are incapable of their duties?
RTE Radio has carried an advertisement over Christmas advising people that the human body breaks down just one unit of alcohol an hour – half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine. Presumably that means someone going out and drinking six or seven pints needs 12-14 hours for the alcohol to clear their system?
Enjoying a pint of Bulmer’s, or glass of red wine, or Gordon’s gin and Schweppes tonic, there is a sense that, unless out of the country, there is always the possibility of an emergency call, always the chance of the phone ringing when it’s least expected. One drink has become a wise rule of thumb.
Standing in a hospital ward on a bank holiday afternoon, the poster came to mind.