Alcohol doesn't tend to make you see more clearly, but in
Denis Duthie's case a bottle of whisky literally saved his
The 65-year-old Taranaki man suddenly went blind when vodka
he had been drinking reacted with his diabetes medication. He
regained his sight only after hospital staff administered
Mr Duthie, a catering tutor at New Plymouth's Western
Institute of Technology, had been celebrating his parents'
50th wedding anniversary in June by having a few vodkas from
a bottle his students had given him as a present.
When he walked into a bedroom in his home everything suddenly
"I thought it had got dark and I'd missed out on a bit of
time but it was only about half-past-three in the afternoon.
I was fumbling around the bedroom for the light switch but
... I'd just gone completely blind."
He thought he'd sleep it off, but the next morning he still
couldn't see a thing, so went to Taranaki Base Hospital.
"I don't remember much after I arrived in hospital. They put
me onto the trolley and into the theatre straight away.
"I know the doctor told my wife to say goodbye because they
didn't think I'd be coming out again."
The surgeon later told him a strong smell like nail polish
remover had come out of the incision in his stomach.
"They asked me if I'd been drinking that and I said 'Jesus
no'. They didn't know what was going on."
The doctor thought he might have formaldehyde poisoning,
which is associated with ingesting methanol and can be
treated by administering ethanol - the type of alcohol found
in alcoholic beverages.
There wasn't enough medical ethanol available in the
hospital, so the registrar nipped down to the local bottle
store and picked up a bottle of whisky.
"Johnnie Walker Black Label. It was good whisky, yeah."
They dripped the whisky - which retails for about $55 a
bottle - into his stomach through a tube, and hoped for the
"I woke up five days later and I could see as soon as I could
open my eyes," Mr Duthie said.
He was feeling "good as gold" and was most impressed by the
hospital's improvised treatment.
"I thought it was pretty bloody good - I'm alive. The
hospital was absolutely awesome. Couldn't have been better."
Auckland City Hospital intensive care medicine specialist
Tony Smith said administering ethanol was a well-established
treatment for methanol poisoning.
It worked because the ethanol competed with the methanol and
prevented it from being metabolised into harmful
formaldehyde, which can cause blindness.
"There are two potential ways of doing it: one is to give
intravenous ethanol through a drip, but that is not available
in all hospitals. There is also nothing wrong with supplying
that alcohol via the gastro-intestinal tract, which is what
they've chosen to do in this circumstance, and that's a well
established treatment. If the patient's awake they can just
Dr Smith said methanol poisoning could be caused by
home-brewed alcohol which had not been made using the
Mr Duthie was told his condition had been caused by the vodka
reacting with his diabetes medication.
He had decided to speak about his ordeal to warn other
diabetics: "If you're a diabetic, take it easy," he said.
He hadn't touched alcohol since being released from hospital.