Letter from GOD: Don’t drink and grind

6 minute read

A half-charged man up a ladder with a fully charged angle grinder is a recipe for disaster.

Dear Julia,

Please be careful. The world is unsafe and it’s not the existential threats of climate change or rogue meteorites that you need to worry about. There is a complete dictionary of domestic dangers out there to be avoided.

Let’s start with the letter “A”. Yes, arsenic and arsonists are deadly, but in your inner-city-post-lockdown-corporate-world, avocados and the ASX cause more harm. I have seen a bad day on the trading floor and a shortage of your favourite sourdough bread reduce you to a snivelling wreck. In my world, it’s alcohol and angle grinders that do the damage.

During covid, alcohol consumption has increased but car accidents have become uncommon. Up here in the hills, there is less carnage on the roads and no public violence on Saturday nights; but there is a price to pay for passing the pandemic in the shed with a slab or a bottle.  Country towns were safer and the locals healthier when the pubs were open.

Life in lockdown hasn’t been kind to Aldo. The district nurse checked on him after lunch. The house was a mess and he seemed depressed. His two Jack Russells, Khan and Coban, are stacking on weight but, despite spending plenty at the local IGA, $300 a week according to the home-help lady, Aldo is fading away.

“It’s lockdown, doc. Changed my life completely.”

I asked him to explain.

“Been drinking in the pub for 60 years. I never learned to cook, so when my missus died I started eating there too and having a bet on the horses to pass the time.”

And now?

“I’ve got more money but nothing to spend it on. Sit in my shed all day with my dogs and smoke and drink and think.”

Lack of social interaction was slowly killing Aldo, I suggested joining the Men’s Shed?

“Not for me, doc. Spent 40 years working on the Snowy scheme without an accident. Not interested in playing around with a lot of power tools now. Too dangerous.”

Carl, male, middle-aged and socially isolated, would be safer if he shared Aldo’s view.

He was missing the tips of two fingers on his left hand when we met in the ED on Saturday morning. Carl is new to angle grinders, got one on-line from Bunnings during lockdown with the idea of turning backyard junk into rustic art, but alcohol is an old friend.

“I don’t drink much, but I am a liar. It’s genetic.”

“The lying or the drinking?”

“Both. My father died of alcohol.”

“And you inherited that?”

“Shit yeah! Like a drop of an evening.”

“You will be happy to see the hotels opening up again then?”

“Not really. I only go to the pub occasionally to show people I’m still alive so they don’t come to my place and bother me.”

I suggested an hour in the bar of an evening might be safer than a few drinks in the shed before lunch while waiting for the angle grinder to charge up.

“Always have cider in the morning; health reasons. Used to be apple cider vinegar but I dropped the vinegar. Too sour. Cured my reflux with cider and I have a good crap every day.”

Later that evening I met another man who uses alcohol as an aperient.

Dave lives off grid and has been installing a wind turbine during lockdown. He was relaxing on the veranda, with a “few wines”, admiring his handiwork, when a freshening breeze caused a loose piece of iron near the top of the structure to start flapping.

A half-charged man up a ladder with a fully charged angle grinder is a recipe for disaster. Dave got off lightly with a neatly bisected upper lip.

I broached the subject of alcohol and accidents while sewing him up.

“Never been a boozer, doc, but I do drink a litre of home-grown, organic wine a day. Tried pear nectar instead once, but found my body needed the shiraz to keep me regular.”

Dave promised to take things quietly and abstemiously for the rest of the weekend, but turned up again on Sunday night, accompanied by two young men wearing dark glasses.

“Ethan and Evan, doc. Good young fellas. No footy on with the pandemic so they’ve been coming out on weekends to give me a hand.

“Cheaper than a builder. They’re happy with a slab each and the free use of my power tools at the end of the day – making new dog cages for their utes.  Bit accident prone though. End up in here most weekends. The slit lamp’s behind the door and the local anaesthetic drops are in the fridge behind you, if you’re looking for them. Boys know the routine.”

Bill has made a living out of alcohol and is the only man in town whose health has improved in lockdown.

“I’ve been pullin’ beers for 50 years. Seen a lot come and go.”

We met on Monday morning.  Bill was listed as being on all the usual “antis” – depressant, hypertensive, inflammatory, reflux – medications but hadn’t had a prescription for 12 months. I questioned his compliance.

“Only thing I’m takin’ now is that pissin’ pill, ‘Duodart’. Gave the others away, this pandemic has been the best thing to happen to me for years.”

His blood pressure was normal, he looked bright and well.

“Listenin’ to a bar full of experts every night is bad for your health. All fuller than family photo albums and dispensin’ free medical advice. Got to me in the end, had me believin’ I was dyin’ of a different disease every week. I’m not goin’ back when things open up again.”

According to your uncle, alcohol-associated accidents occur in Sydney too, but angle grinder injuries are confined to rural Australian males.

Leon also told me that there is nationwide carnage associated with the letter “G” in the US. They’ve got guns and god to contend with.

Don’t drink and grind; always wear safety glasses.

Love, Dad

Dr Max Higgs, aka Grumpy Old Doctor, is a former country GP, a current rural and remote locum and a collector of stories

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