This story seems to beggar belief but it’s true. Doctors saved the life of a man dying from alcohol poisoning in the most surprising way imaginable – by pumping him with 15 cans of beer.
It may sound bizarre but medical staff were forced to take the extreme measure when Nguyen Van Nhat, aged 48, was admitted to hospital after drinking more than 11 times the safe amount of alcohol.
At this point you might be asking yourself, what on earth is a man nearly 50 years old doing drinking 11 times more than the safe level. Most of us will have had one or two too many now and then, especially when we were younger, but this really does seem to be going wildly too far.
The excessive amount of drink in Nhat’s system created dangerous levels of methanol. The body converts methanol into formaldehyde which is then transformed into toxic formic acid. This can cause blindness, kidney failure and even death.
There was no time to lose so doctors at the General Hospital in Vietnam’s Quang Tri had to find a way to dilute and remove the methanol from his body before it was processed by his liver.
Their answer sounds counter intuitive to point of craziness, but this is what they decided to do: pump three cans of beer into his system. The method in the apparent madness is that the alcohol in the beer is converted into ethanol.
When faced with a choice of processing methanol or ethanol first, the liver prioritises ethanol.
This bought the doctors time because while the liver started to process the ethanol, they were able to start giving the patient dialysis to remove the dangerous methanol. Nhat was given a can of beer every hour for 13 hours, adding up to 5 litres in total.
Hans-Jörg Busch, the emergency physician from the University hospital of Freiburg, told German press agency dpa that the “therapy with 15 cans of beer is rather unusual, but well understood,”
He said: “Much more important [than the kind of alcohol used] is that the therapy is immediately initiated.”
Nhat recovered consciousness after receiving the 15th beer and was discharged from hospital three weeks later with no lasting ill-effects.
This kind of emergency treatment is obviously extremely rare, so much so that most doctors will never come across a case like it in their entire career.