Part of her skull's gone

She was found lying unconscious at the bottom of a flight of stairs at a landing near her home, with blood trickling out of her ears.

The 19-year-old was stone drunk at the time.

Amy (not her real name) was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery.

Part of her skull had to be removed to relieve pressure from the swelling inside.

As she lay in a comatose state, her parents watched over her anxiously in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), worried she would never wake up.

Four days later, Amy finally opened her eyes.

But she could not remember anything from that fateful night. She figured that in her drunken state, she must fallen down the stairs and hit her head.

The former school gymnast, who completed her studies in a junior college last year, usually went out drinking on weekends without telling her parents.

She had her first drink in a bar with friends when she was 16 - under the legal drinking age of 18. Part of the fun was to see if they could get away with underage drinking, she said.

But the teenager has been scarred by the 'creepy incident' of her fall in February this year.

She had gone out that night to a friend's birthday party, where there had been 'free flow of all sorts of alcohol'.

Amy said: 'That's why I got so drunk - I had been drinking all evening, then I lost track of what was happening.'

One of her friends took her home in a taxi at 3am, but when they got to Amy's flat, he realised another girl had Amy's house keys.

Not daring to disturb Amy's parents, the friend left her sitting alone at the stairs on the 6th-floor landing while he went to get her keys from her friend back at the party. He was gone for about an hour.

A horrific sight greeted him when he returned - Amy was lying unconscious on her back, her hair matted with blood trickling out of her ears.

It appeared that, in her drunken stupor, she tried to make her way down the stairs but lost her balance, fell and hit the left side of her head.

The injury was so bad that Amy could not process the events of the next three weeks.

Mind was total blank

'My mind was a total blank during that time, and when I finally was able to fully function mentally, my first thoughts were 'Why am I in a hospital?' and 'Where is my hair?'.

Half her head had been shaven for the surgery, and she had lost all the hair follicles in the part of her scalp that had been cut open.

Her accident left her with a weakened left arm and a total loss of her sense of smell. She has another surgery scheduled next month to replace part of her skull that had been removed.

Amy, who is undergoing physiotherapy for her arm and who now alternates between wearing a wig and hats, counts herself 'lucky'.

She said that doctors told her 'it could have been much worse'.

They had feared her movement would be impaired after surgery - which would have been a big blow to Amy, a former gold medallist in the National Schools gymnastics championships.

Having survived her ordeal, Amy has not touched a drop of alcohol since.

And it's not just out of fear, but also because doctors told her that her body may now suffer adverse effects, such as uncontrolled shivering, for the next two years.

Where once she used to think drinking was 'cool', and getting drunk was 'just an experience', caution has now taken over.

'It's easy to say you know your limits, but it gets harder to control your alcohol intake as you drink more,' said Amy, who's waiting to enter university.

'My friends drink, so it seemed natural to join them when we spent time together.'

Amy said she could once down 'up to five drinks of hard liquor straight with no problem'.

Such perceptions of alcohol tolerance are common among teenagers like her who indulge in binge drinking.

A 'binge' is a pattern of drinking alcohol that raises blood alcohol concentration to a very high level. The Singapore Police Force defines this as 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

For a typical adult male, binge drinking corresponds to consuming five or more drinks in about two hours.

For a typical adult female, the threshold is about four drinks in the same period.

A 'drink' is the equivalent of a mug of beer (350ml), a glass of wine (150ml) or a shot of distilled spirits (50ml).

Binge drinking

Statistics from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) also revealed that 10 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 years indulge in binge drinking.

A HPB spokesman told The New Paper that youths who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol-dependent than those who start at the age of 21.

According to HPB, teenage alcohol misuse or abuse may also affect the development of mental and social abilities, increase the chances of engaging in risky sexual behaviours, unwanted pregnancies, increase juvenile delinquency and result in unintentional injury as well as death.

This article was first published in The New Paper.