Friday, May 1, 2009

Treating Drunks

Medical science has no cure for drunkenness, but hotels regularly phone for help. I always ask if the guest wants a doctor. The answer is never yes and always followed by assurance that the hotel would pay my fee. A doctor is not supposed to care for someone who doesn’t want a doctor, but when a hotel appeals for help I do not like to refuse. Suggesting calling the police never works because (like calling paramedics) their arrival ruffles the businesslike atmosphere hotels prefer. Also, arrested guests rarely turn into repeat customers.

Confronting drunks, I enjoy certain advantages. I’m old. conservatively dressed in a suit and tie, and obviously a physician. These qualities inhibit abuse, but they work best in people who think rationally. Drunks are not impervious to my charisma, but they’re unpredictable. Obstreperous drunks nurse a grievance against someone: the staff, a lover, or life in general. Providing an attentive audience helps, so I try to get them talking. Success gives me a sense of accomplishment after the fact but no pleasure at the time. Drunks are boring.

To illustrate, an executive staying at a downtown hotel learned he had been fired. After drinking too much, he phoned his boss to discuss the matter only to learn the boss was also in Los Angeles. Efforts to get a room number from the front desk failed, probably because his boss was in a different hotel. Drunks do not discourage easily; his increasingly loud appearances at the front desk made the staff nervous, so they consulted me.

Drunks obsess about their grievances because no one wants to listen, so they cheer up when someone expresses interest. He followed me to a quiet corner of the lobby, and I composed myself to look attentive as he explained that his dismissal was inexplicable and possibly an error because his last performance review had been entirely positive. Having a copy in his possession, he read the review to me. I agreed it was flattering. He reread it aloud and then asked why a company would dismiss someone it clearly valued. I agreed this sounded unreasonable. Then I made the usual mistake of those speaking to the deranged and asked a logical question: what might have happened since the review to upset his superiors.

Consulting the review, he decided to read it to me again. Suddenly there was silence. The lobby was deserted. A housekeeper was operating a vacuum cleaner at the far end; the drunk gentleman lay back in his chair, snoring. I had fallen asleep, too. Feeling pleased at a tedious job well-done, I proceeded to the front desk for gratitude and payment. Unfortunately, at that time the Marriott was not a regular client where everyone knew me. During the change of shift, the day manager had mentioned calling a doctor to deal with a drunk but failed to add that the hotel had agreed to pay, so the night manager told me to take up the matter during the day.

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