The practice of medicine has many great benefits.  There is the opportunity to study and understand the human body.  The chance to know the hearts and minds of our patients with great intimacy and immediacy.  And, so long as the current epidemic of mortality continues, we’ll probably always have work—alongside the morticians.

            But there are a few things that make it a drag.  For instance, it’s no fun to be on call, to stay up late and work tired, to struggle with regulatory bodies or to write checks for malpractice insurance.  However, those are small potatoes compared to the misery of working in an emergency room on football Saturday.

            It isn’t that I mind working weekends or odd shifts.  I think it was in the fine print when I signed up to be a doctor.  ‘Bearer of this degree shall be required to work long hours, nights, holidays and weekends.  Void in Cancun and US Virgin Islands.’  Although I’d prefer to be home on Saturday and Sunday, I know that someone has to be available for the sick and injured.  That’s not what I mind.

            What I mind is the way that people see game day as a time of acceptable madness.  And that their madness then becomes the problem of hospital emergency rooms across the country.  You see, men and women turn into animals when it comes to college football.  It’s a special kind of crazy, that makes people paint their bodies, fight for the honor of schools they sometimes never attended, and drink like there’s no tomorrow…starting a week before the game.

            I was reminded of this behavior yet again after the recent Clemson/Virginia Tech game.  I came to work Saturday night and saw defeat in the eyes of my partners and our hard-working nurses.  ‘Lots of drunks, huh?’ I said, stating the obvious.  ‘You could say that,’ was the weak, weary reply.  It was like asking Custer, ‘Lots of Indians, eh?’ 

            Around the ER they lay in assorted hospital beds, waking up from alcohol and recovering from wounds.  They had passed out, vomited, fought, fallen down and all the rest.  Some nights, college football leaves us wounded young men who need significant facial and orthopedic surgery because of drinking and fighting.  Too often in America, the drinking (‘only two beers’) leads to driving, which leads to death and eternity.  Go team.

            What escapes me is the way we have not only created a religion of athletics, which is bad enough, but that we have made alcohol abuse one of its holiest sacraments.  Intoxicated college students routinely tell me, when asked how much that they drink, ‘Oh, you know, about like everyone else.’  By the way, that usually means a whole lot.

 I know, alcohol is nothing new.  And I’m not suggesting we have to return to prohibition.  But shouldn’t we have learned a little by now?  Where’s evolution when you need it?  Shouldn’t the people we send to college, and trust with our futures, have better sense than to drink 12 shots in an hour and fall off of their barstools?  Shouldn’t the beautiful young women who attend universities have better sense than the ridiculously drunk men all around them, rather than trying to keep up, as if they were competing?  I guess when we see 35-year-old men get in drunken fist fights over college football, we can’t expect much better from the actual college kids.

            I don’t expect to change any of this right away.  But I’m begging here:  students, don’t get drunk!  It leads to so many bad things, from ulcers and liver disease to car crashes and sexual assault. 

            And parents, teach your kids by example.  If you celebrate the academic and athletic prowess of your favorite school by getting smashed in front of your kids on football Saturdays, then don’t you think they will?  And if you do, by the way, shame on you.

            Finally, to all of the college administrators struggling with issues of alcohol abuse: keep trying to decrease drinking rates!  I know you’re doing your best.  But maybe, if colleges were more proud of learning and creating greatness than they were of their football team’s standing in the polls, then some of the game day craziness would abate a little.

So, to college sports fans young and old, and all across the land, a final word: grow up!  But if you don’t, I’ll still see you on Saturday and do my best.

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