Monday, 04 Sep 2017

The real impact of drugs and alcohol

Associate Professor Martin Wullschleger is Director of Trauma at the Gold Coast University Hospital. He explains his passion for prevention and what led him to become involved with the work of Life Education.

“At the Gold Coast hospital, we see the impact of drugs and alcohol far too often," he said. “Last week we treated a couple who were in a motor vehicle accident who were so drunk they couldn’t even remember who was driving the car."

"Their 11-year-old child was with them and suffered concussions after the car had rolled. It was horrific to see a child put into that situation by their parents. It’s a scene you don’t ever want to see.”

Many of the injuries that Associate Professor Wullschleger sees at the Gold Coast Hospital are avoidable, and it is this daily experience of working with trauma victims that has led him to develop a passion for prevention.

“When people are under the influence of alcohol, they don’t realise that they are not capable of doing the things they would normally do when they are sober. We see so many preventable accidents.

"For example, a drunk person climbing a ladder and losing their balance and falling off. That happens often. We’ve even had someone trying to fix a lawnmower while drunk and getting their fingers cut off by the blades.”

Professor Wullschleger has countless tragic examples.

“Late last year a bunch of teenagers between 13 and 20 thought it would be fun to strip the seats out of a car and drive it at high speed whilst under the influence of alcohol and most likely drugs. The car was basically a shell with a steering wheel and an engine.

"They lost control and it rolled down an embankment. Without seatbelts, it was a death trap. They were thrown and it caused horrible injuries. Two of them died.

"The driver survived and was in hospital for 3-4 weeks. He didn’t even realise what had happened for a long time. He then had to face the families of his friends. So many lives were affected by that senseless act.”

It has been experiences like these that have led his passion for prevention. “I look through the program that Life Education offers and I love the sensible, age-based approach. The program works very well and you can vary it a lot to meet the needs of each school and community. It’s not just about drugs and alcohol; it’s about a healthy lifestyle, and it starts young. It’s a whole package. If you just go in to a school and say that alcohol and drugs are bad, it’s not enough.”

You could forgive Professor Wullschleger if his experiences in the trauma department had made him a pessimist, but he remains a huge optimist about the future. “I really want to help protect people from coming to us with bad outcomes. I always say that I really like my job of fixing up people, it’s really rewarding - but it’s even better if you can prevent it. There will always be injuries and accidents because we are all human beings and stupidity is still out there, but if we can reduce one death, one head injury, one disability, then we are making a difference.”

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