Emergency Room doctor and author Louis Profeta spoke to the Upper School on Feb. 11 about the dangers and consequences of substance use. Dr. Profeta has cared for over one hundred thousand patients, written countless opinion articles, and published a book titled “The Patient in Room Nine Says He is God.”
He began his presentation by commending the Pace community for being courageous enough to listen to the harsh and often frightening topics that he touches on. After touching on a few of his most famous articles and their headlines, he launched into a story about a time he spoke to his son’s college fraternity. One of the members of the fraternity asked him the ever-popular question for ER doctors, “What is the worst thing you have ever seen?” “The worst thing I have ever seen is the look on your mom’s and dad’s faces when I tell them you are dead,” answered Dr. Profeta.
He followed this haunting statement by debunking the rumors spread by movies of what the exchange between the doctor and the deceased patient’s family looks like. “It is not like that,” said Dr. Profeta. “It goes something more like this: NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOT MY SON, NOT MY SON, MY LITTLE GIRL. GO BACK. CHECK AGAIN.” Dr. Profeta let the room sit silently for a moment before he asked the audience a question. “Do you have any f****** idea how selfish that is of you,” he asked. Dr. Profeta then steered his message to be about what love really is. “Take the darkest, deepest most unimaginable grief that you can imagine and that is where you will find it, he said. “That is in the death of your own child.”
Dr. Profeta began his advice portion of his presentation by urging students to develop a sense of “personal responsibility to self.” “Every problem you have right now will get better or just become a different one,” he said. “But drugs and alcohol are not the way you can cope and create resiliency.” He urged students to communicate with their parents if they are experiencing any type of mental or social issues.
Dr. Profeta then switched to a new topic: drug overdoses. “You guys just have no idea how these drugs kill you,” he said. “You have this idealistic vision of an overdose being someone snorting 10 lines of coke or someone injecting heroin, but you can die with just one pill.” He followed this haunting mental image with a real one. Dr. Profeta places various foods and drinks into a pitcher and then proceeded to mash them together with his fist, creating a substance eerily similar to throw up. He then poured the substance into a tracheal tube to illustrate how one suffocates when under the influence and throwing up.
He then described the effects of sedatives such as alcohol and other drugs on the respiratory system. After explaining how a lack of oxygen can cause an individual to go into cardiac arrest, Dr. Profeta walked the audience through what he does when they show up to the ER. “I know you are dead when you show up,” he said. “But I am going to let my med students do CPR on you for about 15 minutes or so.” After pronouncing the patient dead, Dr. Profeta said that he thinks about what they might have done that day, for no young person wakes up and says “I am going to die today.” “I’ll go through your Instagram account or your Tik To before I go in and tell your mother you are dead,” said Dr. Profeta. “It gives me a chance to get to know you a little bit.”
To prevent all of the haunting events that he describes, Dr. Profeta urged students to “embrace a culture where you step in.” “That is not only calling for an ambulance,” he said. “That is reaching out to parents of friends who are engaging in dangerous behavior.” Calling for help is not all that he asks of students. “You have to develop a respect for alcohol, and that includes things like drinking games,” said Dr. Profeta.
He then transitioned from alcohol use to the consumption of cannabis. “It does not open a lot of doors for you right now,” said Dr. Profeta. “Your brains are developing, and there are some studies that show it probably has neurocognitive effects on your brains at this age.” He then advised students that if they are going to use weed, to be careful how they consume it. “Stay away from the edibles,” he said. “We are now seeing edibles laced with fentanyl.”
Dr. Profeta finished his presentation by cautioning students on how substance use can make them vulnerable to sexual crimes or impair their own decision processes. “Protect the individual you first and foremost,” he said.