Herman: How my drinking problem sent me to the emergency room


I had a little (real little) medical incident the other day. All is well, and, more importantly, I did prove a medical theory of mine. This all stems from a drinking problem: Apparently, I don’t drink enough.

I recently opined to friends and family that it is my semi-informed belief that before you reach the point of dehydration you’ll get thirsty. Kind of like you’ll get hungry before you starve. The body is a wonderful thing, equipped with all kinds of warning devices we’re free to ignore.

So it was fortuitous that I recently had the opportunity to test whether one indeed will get thirsty prior to getting dehydrated. Obviously, one has to reach the point of dehydration (which I maintain is beyond thirst) to run this test. So, in the name of research, I reached the point of dehydration. You’re welcome. And the short answer is yes, I did get thirsty before I was pushed on a gurney — dehydrated — into the ambulance.

RELATED: 10 tips for staying cool while running in the summer

This excitement went down when I couldn’t get up last Saturday during a morning bike ride that started at 8 a.m. in Northwest Hills and ended in early afternoon in North Austin Medical Center’s efficient (and well air-conditioned) emergency room.

Just over 28 miles into what would have been a 28.2 mile ride — a routine distance for me and, lest you judge my mph, this ride included a leisurely breakfast stop at Sweetish Hill (and lest you judge my breakfast, it was eggish, not sweetish) — fellow American-Statesman staffer and cyclist Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and I turned into Anderson High School to take a look at the new robotics building. After rolling by that, we dismounted to watch an inning of the adult baseball league game underway at the high school.

I felt a bit fatigued, hot and thirsty after a westbound, mildly uphill stretch of Steck Avenue, but nothing serious. Things got more serious when I tried to stand up and felt my field of vision narrowing like a curtain closing as nausea brewed within. I told Haurwitz to give me a few moments and I’d be fine. I wasn’t. I actually got less fine pretty quickly as seated on the bleachers advanced to prone on the ground. I still thought I’d be OK, though I was pretty sure Haurwitz would not offer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if needed.

So there was that.

Haurwitz quickly realized this was not going to end with me getting back on the bike and pedaling the few blocks back to my house. And I quickly realized I was on the verge of a Saturday nap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pro-Saturday naps, but the scheduled, voluntary kind watching televised baseball in a comfy chair, not the unscheduled, involuntary kind watching live baseball prone on the ground.

STAY ON TOP OF THE WEATHER: Download the Statesman Weather app for custom weather alerts in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores

One thing led to another, though I don’t remember all of them. Haurwitz later told me the real action began when he yelled “Emergency!” and called 911. Folks on hand for the baseball game gathered to help as I sat in a chair, apparently un- or semiconscious for a few seconds. (And here is where it’s OK for you to say, “Oh, kind of like when you write columns?”)

I recall some conversation, not including me, about the approaching ambulance. And I recall the two friendly and helpful EMS guys (I wish I got their names; thanks, guys) moving quickly to assess my situation by asking three questions, including one intended to shock my heart back to pumping if it had stopped:

“Who is the president of the United States?” he asked.

I answered correctly, somehow opting not to offer editorial comment. (Imagine the battery of psychological exams that would have ensued if, a mere three years ago, you’d have answered that question with “Donald J. Trump.”) He also asked me what city we were in and, attempting to trip me up, added a math question: “How many dimes in a dollar?” Not bragging here, but I aced the exam.

They hooked me up to some fluids as I shared with them the coincidence of this happening a few days after my official pronouncement of my theory about thirst and dehydration. By the way, they agreed that you’ll get thirsty en route to dehydration.

I felt much better by the time we got to the hospital, where, shortly after being wheeled into a chilly ER treatment room, I quickly realized my next challenge might be frostbite. I got to meet lots of helpful ER folks, all of whom were affable and relaxed. Must be nice to go to work in your pajamas. They ran some tests and pronounced a diagnosis of dehydration and syncope. I’d never heard of syncope until I saw it in the discharge paperwork.

“You have been diagnosed with syncope (pronounced SINK-uh-pee). This is the medical term for a rapid loss of consciousness or a fainting episode. There are many causes of syncope. Some of these are life-threatening and others are not serious,” it said, adding, “Patients without life-threatening conditions may be sent home.”

I was pleased to qualify for that. And I didn’t need the hospital definition of dehydration. I know what that is. And I was correct. It’s that thing beyond thirsty.

Now, having proven my point that you’ll get thirsty before you get dehydrated, I’m working on my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Friends, it’s hot out there. You’ve probably not heard this from anyone, but, having road-tested this theory, let me recommend the introduction of orally administered liquids when you’re thirsty. And sometimes water isn’t enough. Electrolytes, yes. Alcohol, no (ever).

And, despite how you feel about it, endeavor to give the right answer, sans editorial comment, when a health care professional asks you who’s the president of the United States. This is about your state of consciousness, not your state of confusion about how this particular president got to be this particular president.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: Sept. 25, 2018
Letters to the editor: Sept. 25, 2018

Query: What are the Republican senators and Chuck Grassley afraid of? What is President Donald Trump afraid of? They all do not want an FBI investigation into the events leading to the accusation of sexual assault, attempted rape of Dr. Ford, by then-high school student Brett Kavanaugh. Why? Many years ago, during another Supreme Court Justice Senate...
Commentary: Fathers need to remember that their sons are watching

CHICAGO — What’s it like to be a boy these days? It’s a frequent thought for me as I navigate my son’s 17th year of life in a world where the scourge of toxic masculinity shares the public consciousness with admiration of spectacularly muscled sports stars and big-screen superheroes whose worth is predicated on their physical...
Facebook comments: Sept. 25, 2018

Recently the American-Statesman’s Lori Hawkins and Shonda Novak gave an update on development on South Congress Avenue, where a number of construction projects are under way. Some of the projects include The Magdalena, a Liz Lambert hotel under construction at Music Lane and Academy Drive with a projected fall 2019 opening; Saint Vincent, a three-story...
Opinion: The burden of proof for Kavanaugh

Last week, I wrote a column taking the view that conservatives supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court because they hope he will overturn Roe v. Wade should be willing to encourage his withdrawal if his accuser testifies credibly against him and the cloud over his nomination can’t be expeditiously cleared up. Even if...
Opinion: Is Senate committee equipped to grasp Kavanaugh allegations?

For all their well-learned politesse, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have scarcely been able to conceal their determination to get Christine Blasey Ford out of their hair. Ford is the last obstacle to confirming conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she’s a formidable one. She has alleged...
More Stories