I went out to dinner with three friends last Thursday evening at a nice suburban restaurant that I’ve been to many times before. The food and ambience are always lovely there. My friends and I had been planning and looking forward to this chance to get out and catch up for weeks. We’ve known each other since our daughters were babies together, now more than 20 years ago.
We had an early-bird 5 pm reservation, because one of us had a hard stop at 7 pm to pick up her 15-year-old son. We promptly sat down at our table in the mostly empty-as-yet dining room and ordered cocktails right away, knowing if we were going to enjoy a drink, we needed to do that early so we could then eat and drive away responsibly afterwards. We shared appetizers, conversation and then our meal until the evening began to unravel in an unexpected and disturbing way.
By the time our first friend left to pick up her kid, the restaurant and its bar area had grown crowded. Our remaining group of three leaned into our cozy table at the back of the dining room to hear each other speak. This is when I noticed the friend sitting directly across from me (I’ll call her Mary) had begun to sway and slur her words. She was talking nonsense, and her eyelids had begun to droop. She had only finished about half her dinner. She was the only one of us who had ordered a second mixed drink, a delicious-looking pomegranate martini, and I figured maybe the alcohol had hit her unusually hard. But it was weird. I’ve seen her have a drink or two with dinner before; it had never affected this way, and she really had not seemed to have had enough alcohol to be acting like this.
A few minutes later, Mary bolted for the bathroom and stayed there for a while. As she left, I turned to express concern to the other remaining friend at the table (I’ll call her Ann) about Mary’s ability to drive herself home. Ann said not to worry because she had driven both of them to the restaurant and would drive home as well. I was relieved to hear that, so we moved on to other topics. We ordered dessert and tea, which were on the table by the time Mary returned from the bathroom, admitting later that she had been vomiting profusely. At this point, Mary had insisted she was ok, but Ann and I could both clearly see she was not herself. She then took another trip to the bathroom while we flagged down the waitress and requested the bill. By the time we paid the bill, Mary was on her third trip to the bathroom. This final time when Mary returned to the table, she said she felt poorly and needed to leave pronto.
The three of us left the restaurant together, with Mary leaning on Ann as they made their way to the car. I said goodbye to the two of them and drove home to my family. About two hours later, I was caught up in the night-time routine with my youngest son when my phone rang. It was Ann calling to say she was at our local hospital’s emergency room with Mary, who was showing all the signs and symptoms of having been roofied. She was vomiting on the way to the hospital. Once there, her blood pressure was dangerously low, and she was in and out of consciousness.
I mentioned earlier that we all have young adult daughters, which has us keenly aware of the epidemic of drink spiking that goes on at bars, clubs and university campuses. We are constantly warning our daughters to stick with their friends and keep tabs on each other when they are out together. My daughter had even introduced me several months ago to a Boston area Facebook group with well over 10,000 followers that maintains an eerily long list of local establishments where patrons suspect their drinks have been laced with drugs.
Nonetheless, I would never have expected that a group of women well over the age of 50, who were eating midweek at an upscale suburban restaurant, would be the target of a drink-spiking assault. But that is apparently what happened.
When Ann and Mary had arrived at Mary’s house, Ann opened the car door for Mary and helped her inside. Ann called for Mary’s husband John—a doctor—who came running and was immediately concerned for his wife. After about five minutes, she had slid to the floor, was lying on her back, staring blankly up at the ceiling and mumbling about not being able to feel her legs. The two helped Mary get back into Ann’s car and they drove to the ER. By the time they got there, Mary was completely incapacitated, incapable of even sitting in the wheelchair during her triage. Doctors called for a gurney, strapped her in and rolled her away. They proceeded to run every test imaginable, except the one that identifies Rohypnol.
Yes, you read that right. Hospitals don’t do the simple urine test to identify the “date rape” drug—at least in this state. As in other situations like this one, the hospital ran every test except this obvious one. I had not known that hospitals do not run this simple test until this week, and I was so angry to find this out that I tracked down my State Sen. Patrick O’Connor the next day. We had a long conversation on this topic, and he agrees this is madness. He had already cosigned onto a bill sponsored by State Sen. Paul Feeney that would give hospitals an appropriate testing protocol in cases such as this one, where all signs point to Rohypnol. Without this information, tracking and/or prosecuting these assaults is practically impossible.
In Mary’s case, she was pulled in for a CT scan, MRI, urine and blood tests, etc. The hospital’s tox screen for heroin, cocaine and other substances came back negative. Mary was not having a heart attack or stroke. Her blood pressure was dangerously low, but that’s about all the doctors could glean from the information they collected. Mary stayed overnight for observation and was released late the next morning. She and her husband both missed a day of work as she recovered at home.
The good news is a few days later, Mary has recovered physically. Aside from the emotional trauma of trying to come to terms with what happened, she expressed gratitude that her friends were there to ensure her safety when she needed us. She says: “I can’t thank you all enough for being such kind and supportive friends. I know it must have been horrifying to watch me and how helpless it must have felt. I’m still struggling to make sense of it myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve warned (my daughter) to never ever leave her girlfriends’ sides, whether they might need support or she herself might find herself in a precarious situation. I felt so grateful to be able to share with her that my girlfriends were there for me in my time of need.”
In talking about and processing this experience, our friends have brainstormed some action we can take to help each other avoid similar incidents:
- Encourage your favorite restaurants and bars to publicize with signs or on the menu the steps they are taking to keep you safe from drink-spiking, including video surveillance of their bar area. They use signs to encourage hand-washing in the bathrooms, so this should not be a foreign concept. They are also accustomed to preventing food-borne illness, and illnesses related to tainted drinks should be taken every bit as seriously.
- Advocate for better laws and testing at hospitals in your state or community. Without accountability, these incidents will only become more widespread.
- Insist on having your drink made in front of you, either at the bar or at the table, rather than allowing the bartender to leave your drink to sit unattended on the bar waiting for a server to bring it to your table.
- Drink only from cans or bottles that you open yourself or can see being opened in front of you.
- Stick with your friends and make sure that you keep an eye on anyone who is acting strangely.
Having just emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, we would hate to see people start avoiding restaurants or social situations and we are not advising that. Instead, we urge all of us to continue getting out and enjoying ourselves with our friends safely.
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