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rosehips
04-16-2012, 07:29 AM
In my current story, the MC will be traveling through a very poor district, carrying a bottle of cherry brandy. She'll encounter a child starving to the point of passing out. What would happen if she gave the child a drink of the alcohol?

Drachen Jager
04-16-2012, 07:35 AM
Nothing good. It could kill him, could just make him worse. Certainly won't help.

rosehips
04-16-2012, 07:47 AM
Nothing good. It could kill him, could just make him worse. Certainly won't help.

Thanks for responding! I figured this might be the case. I'll be using this incident to motivate the MC to vigilantism... either she doesn't help the child at all and the guilt haunts her, or she does try to give him the brandy, it has a negative effect, and that haunts her.

It would be helpful to me if someone could explain the consequences in more detail...?

Drachen Jager
04-16-2012, 09:20 AM
I'm not qualified to give that kind of a detailed answer, but anyone who is will need the full details.

Kid's age, whether it's acute starvation or prolonged malnutrition and any other factors.

Best guess, kid would pass out and not wake up without medical attention, but that depends on how much he drinks.

Cricket18
04-16-2012, 09:49 AM
There are doctors on this board who could help give you a qualified answer.

My best guess is that the child *might* be able to swallow it, but even if they did, most likely they would throw it right back up.

boron
04-16-2012, 12:35 PM
How much cherry brandy could a child (under 6 years of age?) drink - this is the question I can't answer. I mean, even to swallow one sip would be quite a "success."

But let's say the child manages to swallow one "standard drink" that is 1.5 oz 40 vol% (80 proof) cherry brandy. This would require 3-4 gulps...and someone tell me if this is realistic...A child who is likely nauseated due to starvation would likely throw up that alcohol within few minutes and only a minimal amount of it would be absorbed.

Without throwing up, the alcohol would be absorbed and the child would become, well, drunk within 15-60 minutes. The child might have some problems walking straight and would, I guess, become sleepy.

A starving child who passes out obviously already has hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Alcohol in the amount mentioned enhances hypoglycemia; in starving adults who binge drink this may occur 6 or more hours after drinking, in a child probably sooner. Classical symptoms of hypoglycemia (http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia-in-childhood.html) are feeling hungry, weak and dizzy, nausea, restlessness, sweating and then passing out (let's say within 2 hours after drinking).

There were cases where small children drank alcohol-containing mouthwash and get severely poisoned and eventually died. Calculated from this article (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9348605), for a 33 lbs child, 5 oz of 40 vol% (80 proof) brandy could be lethal. A smaller dose could kill a starving child, though.

jclarkdawe
04-16-2012, 04:25 PM
I can't imagine what idiot would think giving hard liquor to a small child makes sense, but going from that starting point.

Besides what Boron says, BAC is roughly a linear function of weight. In other words, two drinks effect a 180 pound person the same as one drink effects a 90 pound person. So according to the tables, one drink for a 90 pound person results in a BAC of 0.05. (Note that everything here is an approximation.) This would imply that one drink for a 30 pound person would result in a BAC of roughly 0.15. Or in Boron's case of 5 ounces, a BAC in excess of 0.45. But even one drink is going to cause significant impairment of a small child, with the child easily reaching twice the legal limit to drive.

Further aggravating the situation is the poor physical condition of the child. The child is probably suffering from hypoglycemia, exhaustion, and poor hydration. The child's body would probably try absorbing the alcohol considerably faster then normal (try drinking on an empty stomach and see how fast you get drunk). And since alcohol is a drug that builds a tolerance, you have to factor that into the equation. So if one drink in a 30 pound child would produce a BAC of 0.15, it's likely the effects would be at least one BAC higher, if not more. You'd be very likely to see stupor and loss of consciousness.

Medically, you'd have a patient that is suffering from acute alcohol poisoning.

Further complicating this would be the vomiting that would be induced. Vomiting causes dehydration, which in a patient who is already dehydrated can cause a fatal change in the electrolyte status in the person. Further impacting the vomiting is the amount of physical effort required in a body that has little or nothing in the way of resources. And oh, by the way, you have to worry about asphyxiation and pneumonia with anybody under the influence of alcohol.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
04-16-2012, 06:16 PM
Hi all,
Thanks for the insights!

Jim, yes, it's a bad idea. If I do decide to go with her giving him a drink, it will come out of a panicked impulse to give him something, anything, because he's starving. This is a street urchin she's going to come across quite by accident, not a child she knows or cares for. Does that sound any better? Because I can just as easily go with her not giving him a drink at all, and then obsessing over not having helped him.

If I do go with her giving him a drink, I'm thinking I'd have him take a sip or two and then vomit. So if that were the case, what would the ramifications of the vomiting be? Jim, you seem to imply that the vomiting itself would be harmful.

boron
04-16-2012, 06:41 PM
Rosehip, what's the child's weight? Besides what you've said so far, this seems to be the most important information to answer your question.

Drinking and then vomiting within minutes would not make much alcohol to enter the blood, since alcohol is only slowly absorbed in the stomach (it is much faster absorbed in the small intestine).

If he vomits back only the brandy and eventual water drunk before, I wouldn't expect nothing dangerous from that. Dehydration or loss of electrolytes happens only in severe, repeated vomiting. However, dehydration would happen if she wouldn't give him something to drink during the whole day (vomiting or not).

There were two children (seven and eight y.o.) surviving seven days after an earthquake in Haiti 2010 without drinking/eating anything, and there was a newborn 14 days old, surviving 10 days after an earthquake in Mexico in 1985 without drinking.

You can't make anything dramatic from your scenario (two sips of alcohol and vomiting that). Passing out from starving and not drinking is by far more dangerous. Someone who passes out from starving, that is from hypoglycemia, won't likely wake up without the glucose injection.

jclarkdawe
04-16-2012, 07:06 PM
This all depends upon the starting point of the child. You describe the child as "starving to the point of passing out." This implies that the child is already in extreme distress, which implies that the child is probably severely dehydrated and the blood/sugar ratios are in the toilet. Electrolytes are probably already compromised, and the kidneys are probably having problems functioning.

But I don't know how bad the child is. Normally you'd treat a child (or adult) at this level of distress very cautiously, allowing only sips of water and until you know the water is going to stay down, avoiding food. You just don't know how bad your patient is and it's better to go a little slow then a little fast.

Vomiting will deplete fluid, which in a patient that is already a few quarts low, isn't a good thing. Is it going to cause a fatal heart problem? Without a lot of lab work, you're not going to know. Further, vomiting uses up a large amount of energy, something this child has in short supply. But exhaustion will kill you, and again, how much room does this child have?

You can't tell, but if the child is "starving to the point of passing out," which means the child is about ready to become unconscious. I'd be expecting the worse and hoping for the best. Because the next stop after a starving person becomes unconscious is frequently death.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
04-16-2012, 07:13 PM
Hi boron,

Thanks for your response!

The weight of the child is something we could determine here, if there's a weight that would lend itself to maximum effect. The child will have been on the verge of starvation for his whole life. He's a street urchin in a slum, poor thing. So he'd be terribly underweight, whatever his age. His slum has more recently been cut off from whatever supplies the inhabitants had access to before due to a regime change. The new government that will eventually choose to exterminate the slum-dwellers (or enslave them--a bit of both, probably). In any case, the situation was always bad for the child, and now it's much worse. The child isn't going to survive, no matter what my MC does.

I really appreciate the advice everyone has offered. Please help me figure out, then, what the best option is.

How old should the child be, and what weight, considering this scene must end in such a way for it to haunt my MC and cause her to decide to become a vigilante and fight the oppressive government that has cut off the slum from any supplies?
Should she try, in a panic, to give the child a drink of brandy, and if so, would he vomit? Pass out? I gather from what you're saying he wouldn't die from it.* It think just seeing him get sick from it and realizing she hasn't helped him will be enough. A relative or friend of the child's will chase her off, and then she'll spend the next few days and nights obsessing over him.
Or would it be better to have her stop, consider giving him the alcohol, decide against it, try, perhaps, to revive him (by talking to him, gently shaking him... other ideas?) and then get chased off?

The trouble with the latter scenario is I don't think it makes sense for her to feel guilty about it, and I believe she'll need the guilt as a motivator.

*ETA: Jim, your post came up while I was typing this. If I understand what you're saying, he could in fact die. So I could have her give him a drink of the brandy, and he'd vomit, and go into cardiac arrest?

boron
04-16-2012, 09:17 PM
I think just seeing him get sick from it and realizing she hasn't helped him will be enough.

So, this is pretty much all you need? Trying to help, the child becomes sick, there is no success, but you do not want he gets severely affected at that time?

Few sips of brandy, yes, it would make the child sick and not help. Probably vomiting, but not necessary. Kids have died from drinking alcoholic mouthwash, which means they did not vomit it out. So, you decide he vomits or not. If you want to make him look sick, vomiting is an easy way to show this.

Vomiting expels the alcohol out, so that's it. Only little would be absorbed into the blood and would not by itself cause much harm. No passing out, no cardiac arrest or such. So the whole drinking session with vomiting would be an annoyance for a child, not necessary more. Alcohol causes alcohol poisoning (passing out, cardiac arrest...) only when it enters the blood, not just the stomach. After drinking, alcohol stays in the stomach for a while, even in the empty stomach, usually for...at least few minutes. Until in the stomach, alcohol is not absorbed well into the blood. It has to pass further into the small intestine to be absorbed. So, if the child vomits within few minutes, alcohol would not necessary go further into the blood.

If you have a child passing out from starvation and he gets no medical help, you are probably giving him only some hours to live, because when someone passes out from hypoglycemia (starvation) he does not likely wake up again on his own. Shaking his body to keep him conscious would work on the beginning of passing out, but not later. Until someone is conscious you can give him sugar cubes to eat and prevent deadly hypoglycemia. When someone is already in coma he can't swallow food, so only medically administered food can help. I mean, if the child is not to die within hours, do not mention passing out from whatever reason.

An excited woman trying to give alcohol to save a child's life, yes, it sounds possible to me - I wouldn't be surprised to read this in the news. Alcohol has calories, some chronic drinkers drink for several weeks in a row without biting a piece of food and they are "fine."

Of course alcohol, maybe even few sips, can result in a soon death of a child in a bad condition, but, like said, it depends how much alcohol actually enters the blood. Alcohol passes the stomach in different individuals in very different times, but not likely just instantly...so it's your decision.

Knowing the weight would be only important for the sake of this thread if the actual alcohol poisoning was in question...I can imagine a 7-10 years old boy drinking alcohol, younger than that would be progressively less realistic. Older than 10 - the boy could be maybe able to help himself somehow.

GingerGunlock
04-17-2012, 12:46 AM
I understand the situation that you're describing (urchin, aid cut off, etc.) but don't understand the train of thought that would lead to alcohol = the solution. If she really wants to help, she should carry him to a hospital, try to call an ambulance and argue with them regarding his situation (they don't help people without insurance, or whatever), that kind of thing. As a reader, I feel like the alcohol would be a frustrating thing for me. Does it have a greater necessity than just that scene?

What places your MC in that district, with that alcohol? Is she on her way to a party? Is it something she's late for, and can't conceivably stop or her "life is ruined"?

If her vigilantism is dependent on the scene, I would expect to read things like her shock at having known it wasn't that bad, at the reality of the situation being brought to bear by the sight of this child, etc.

Bufty
04-17-2012, 01:35 AM
I can't follow why she's there with cherry brandy instead of plain water.

jclarkdawe
04-17-2012, 02:21 AM
*ETA: Jim, your post came up while I was typing this. If I understand what you're saying, he could in fact die. So I could have her give him a drink of the brandy, and he'd vomit, and go into cardiac arrest?
There's a range here and no way to predict exactly what will happen. A couple of sips and nothing to dropping dead. (There are stories about this happening with water. A couple of sips and dying.) So you can make this believable with a bunch of different results.


So, this is pretty much all you need? Trying to help, the child becomes sick, there is no success, but you do not want he gets severely affected at that time?

Few sips of brandy, yes, it would make the child sick and not help. Probably vomiting, but not necessary. Kids have died from drinking alcoholic mouthwash, which means they did not vomit it out. So, you decide he vomits or not. If you want to make him look sick, vomiting is an easy way to show this. Ditto.

Vomiting expels the alcohol out, so that's it. Only little would be absorbed into the blood and would not by itself cause much harm. No passing out, no cardiac arrest or such. Probably, but it can happen. It depends upon how bad the kid is when this starts. So the whole drinking session with vomiting would be an annoyance for a child, not necessary more. Definitely, and most likely result. Alcohol causes alcohol poisoning (passing out, cardiac arrest...) only when it enters the blood, not just the stomach. After drinking, alcohol stays in the stomach for a while, even in the empty stomach, usually for...at least few minutes. Until in the stomach, alcohol is not absorbed well into the blood. It has to pass further into the small intestine to be absorbed. So, if the child vomits within few minutes, alcohol would not necessary go further into the blood. Probably. But chug-a-lug can produce some really quick results beyond the vomiting.

If you have a child passing out from starvation and he gets no medical help, you are probably giving him only some hours to live, because when someone passes out from hypoglycemia (starvation) he does not likely wake up again on his own. Shaking his body to keep him conscious would work on the beginning of passing out, but not later. Until someone is conscious you can give him sugar cubes to eat and prevent deadly hypoglycemia. When someone is already in coma he can't swallow food, so only medically administered food can help. I mean, if the child is not to die within hours, do not mention passing out from whatever reason. Starvation does not usually cause death by itself. Usually the person is so weakened by the starvation that some other cause is the technical reason for death. But if he's going unconscious solely because of starvation, this is what's going to happen.

An excited woman trying to give alcohol to save a child's life, yes, it sounds possible to me - I wouldn't be surprised to read this in the news. Alcohol has calories, some chronic drinkers drink for several weeks in a row without biting a piece of food and they are "fine." Nor would I be surprised to read it. Problem for you is whether your character is going to be too dumb to live.

Of course alcohol, maybe even few sips, can result in a soon death of a child in a bad condition, but, like said, it depends how much alcohol actually enters the blood. Alcohol passes the stomach in different individuals in very different times, but not likely just instantly...so it's your decision. Yep. Whatever the plot needs you can make work here.

Knowing the weight would be only important for the sake of this thread if the actual alcohol poisoning was in question...I can imagine a 7-10 years old boy drinking alcohol, younger than that would be progressively less realistic. Older than 10 - the boy could be maybe able to help himself somehow.
Boron and I are looking at this a little bit differently as to how badly off is the patient to start with. I'm assuming a bit worse then Boron. You've got a wide range of plausible results that could happen. Biggest problem I'm going to have is someone giving alcohol to a kid. But people used to use whiskey to treat snake bite.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
04-19-2012, 04:04 AM
Hi again everyone,
Thanks again for your responses.

I don't want my character to appear "dumb," and since it seems to be of concern, let me give a bit more explanation.

My character is out of her element as she is new to this city. She's never encountered anyone starving before, has zero knowledge about it. She's also on the verge of alcoholism herself, and is a bit drunk, and is carrying the brandy because she swiped it on her way out of a party. Regardless of whether I decide to have her give the brandy to the child, she's going to have that bottle (and no water) as she's making her way home. I'd rather like the bottle to take on an extra layer of significance after this incident, as she contemplates taking a drink from it... Anyway. She's also in a hurry as she goes through the underground poor district which she's taking as a kind of short cut, because she's very late getting home and she'll probably catch hell from another character there who she's afraid of. So she's already upset, in a fearful state, when she encounters the child. She's a mother, and her own son has been taken from her, so she's especially sensitive to suffering children.

Finding help/taking the child to the hospital isn't an option because she doesn't know her way around the city, the police have been replaced by fascist enforcer types, and she doesn't have time without risking her own neck (the scary character awaiting her has nearly killed her in the past).

So if folks feel like this really would be an implausible or stupid thing for her to do, I'll avoid it. But the way I see it, she's going to come across this child, freak out because he reminds her of her son, see that he's starving, in terrible shape. She herself hasn't had anything to eat in a while because she's been drinking, and she looks at this bottle as a source of calories, maybe giving the child a sip or two may help him. She does, it makes him sick(er). Some relative or friend of the child sees what's happening and chases her off. She obsesses over hurting the child and the fact that he was starving in the first place... etc.

Thoughts?

Fenika
04-19-2012, 05:48 AM
Why not just give the kid too much water so that he pukes, then blacks out?

rosehips
04-19-2012, 09:05 AM
Why not just give the kid too much water so that he pukes, then blacks out?

She isn't carrying water. She would have no water to give.

GingerGunlock
04-19-2012, 09:23 AM
Hi again everyone,
Thanks again for your responses.

I don't want my character to appear "dumb," and since it seems to be of concern, let me give a bit more explanation.

My character is out of her element as she is new to this city. She's never encountered anyone starving before, has zero knowledge about it. She's also on the verge of alcoholism herself, and is a bit drunk, and is carrying the brandy because she swiped it on her way out of a party. Regardless of whether I decide to have her give the brandy to the child, she's going to have that bottle (and no water) as she's making her way home. I'd rather like the bottle to take on an extra layer of significance after this incident, as she contemplates taking a drink from it... Anyway. She's also in a hurry as she goes through the underground poor district which she's taking as a kind of short cut, because she's very late getting home and she'll probably catch hell from another character there who she's afraid of. So she's already upset, in a fearful state, when she encounters the child. She's a mother, and her own son has been taken from her, so she's especially sensitive to suffering children.

Finding help/taking the child to the hospital isn't an option because she doesn't know her way around the city, the police have been replaced by fascist enforcer types, and she doesn't have time without risking her own neck (the scary character awaiting her has nearly killed her in the past).

So if folks feel like this really would be an implausible or stupid thing for her to do, I'll avoid it. But the way I see it, she's going to come across this child, freak out because he reminds her of her son, see that he's starving, in terrible shape. She herself hasn't had anything to eat in a while because she's been drinking, and she looks at this bottle as a source of calories, maybe giving the child a sip or two may help him. She does, it makes him sick(er). Some relative or friend of the child sees what's happening and chases her off. She obsesses over hurting the child and the fact that he was starving in the first place... etc.

Thoughts?


Thanks for coming back and adding context! With this information, the situation makes a little more sense. That, and if she's already quasi-alcoholic and tipsy herself, giving some alcohol to a child in an effort to save him is more plausible than just hearing about it cold turkey.

boron
04-19-2012, 12:29 PM
If you want to give an impression the child is in a "terrible state" you can describe how skinny he is and apathetic. Like said above, starving, even severe one, by itself does not make someone to pass out. If you do not want the child to die soon after he meets the woman, skip this passing out, because it adds an unnecessary drama.

rosehips
04-19-2012, 07:32 PM
Thanks, Boron and Ginger!

I appreciate the feedback. :)