United States of America
A hangover Cure in Las Vegas
“What’s your pain level?” asks Dr Burke, resplendent in full PPE.
“It’s pretty high,” I whisper through a fog of morning death breath.
“Between one and 10, 10 being the highest,” continues the good doctor.
“Eleven,” I cry through a stifled dry wretch.
Sixteen hours earlier, just after midday, we’d landed in Sin City, Lost Wages, City of Second Chances, Las Vegas baby, and we were primed – primed to test Dr Jason Burke and his business Hangover Heaven, a mobile IV clinic claiming to cure even the greatest of brown bottle flus. This was an assignment I was born for.
We offload our bags at the MGM Grand and quickly get down to business. It’s pushing 2pm and the doctor is booked for 9am the following morning. Factoring in the need for a few hours’ sleep (Hangover Heaven will not treat those still intoxicated), I figure we have about 12 hours to imbibe all Vegas has to offer. My wife seems concerned with my sudden and unusual dedication to work.
First stop is the Wet Republic pool party. If it’s good enough for Prince Harry it’s good enough for me, and I’ve heard the drinks are particularly potent. We down four red concoctions in the first hour and I find myself dancing in the pool to the deep beats of a distant DJ while desperately trying not to let any water splash into my drink.
I’m easily the oldest in a crowd of deeply tanned, surgically-enhanced people.
“And your nausea levels?” asks Dr Burke. “Again, between one and 10?”
“Is it an automatic 10 if I’ve already thrown up?”
“No,” he answers. “Depends on how many times.”
We depart Wet Republic when I can’t stomach another red cocktail. I’ve also been in the pool so long I look like I’m deflating. I’d read about the legendary off-strip bar called Freakin’ Frog, famous not only for being the birthplace of Las Vegas rockers The Killers, but also for having 200 beers on tap. In other words, it’s the perfect second stop.
We stumble out of a taxi and into the bar at sunset. It’s a quiet afternoon and we get chatting to Donnie behind the bar. He hasn’t heard of Hangover Heaven, but his eyes light up when I explain my assignment.
“Dude, you know we got the goddam largest whiskey collection in the US right here?!”
I mention I can’t see a whiskey bottle anywhere in the bar. He laughs and pours me a second pint of an eight per cent double IPA. “Finish that,” he says, “and follow me. We’re goin’ to the attic.”
Donnie lines up six shots of various whiskies. We’re in what can only be described as a whiskey lover’s dream. Every wall is floor-to ceiling whiskey bottles. After my fourth the walls start to move. After the sixth I recall Hunter S Thompson in his classic novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas crying out, “You better take care of me Lord, if you don’t, you’re gonna have me on your hands.”
“If you can just sign here,” says the doctor, “we can get started.”
His assistant is attaching an oxygen line to my nostrils and tapping the vein on my right arm.
“I think you’re going to need two bags of fluid,” says the doc, looking through his notes.
“You’ve had a pretty good go at it.”
Things get hazy after the Frog. We’re back on the Strip, it’s well into the night, the lights are bright and there is a stand selling a litre of frozen margarita in a plastic replica Eiffel Tower. I love the Vegas Strip. It is a roll call of the absurd. There’s a beggar with a sign asking for “Money for my Asian Bride”, and a toothless woman holding a cat wearing a singlet. There’s a woman on a scooter with a margarita on a sling around her neck and a bucket of chicken in her scooter basket. She manages to eat, drink, drive and be merry all at once.
I think we eat, but I can’t be sure. I remember The Cosmopolitan’s fancy stores and restaurants. I recall a giant shoe in the entrance and my wife sitting in it. We dance to duelling pianos at New York New York Casino and stumble back to the MGM Grand just after midnight.
That should have been enough but, no, on the walk through the casino I find myself at a sports bar ordering another pint and explaining to the bartender I need one last kick before bed.
“Ha, you’ll never fix this Hangover Heaven!” I say out loud as he lines up two shots of Fireball to complement the beer.
It takes Dr. Burke a couple of goes to find my vein and blood is spilled. Not an ideal start, but the oxygen starts to work and, as the first bag of fluid drains, the doctor adds a cocktail of pain killers and anti-inflammatories.
“Real hangovers need real medicine,” he says. After about 20 minutes I am surprised to feel almost normal. My puffy eyes have opened, the nausea is gone, my appetite has returned and, after brushing my tongue, my breath is serviceable.
“What’s the worst you’ve seen, Doc?” I ask.
He tells me of a middle-aged woman who’d come to Vegas after her fourth child left home:
“It was her first vacation without the kids and she went real, real hard. When I got to her she was bringing up bile. She’d been like that for half the day. It took a few hours, but we got her back. She even had a glass of wine that night.”
And that is why Vegas loves the good doctor. There are loose units who come out of the blocks too hard on the first day of their three night trip and end up in the foetal position in their hotel rooms for the next 48 hours.
“They ain’t spending anything anywhere any more,” he says. “I get them back in the game.”
Later that afternoon we’re strolling the Strip with a spring in our step. There’s a beer stand with a special on a two-litre bucket of Bud.
“Why not?” I ask my wife, as she rolls her eyes. Back in the game indeed, Dr Burke.