Bali poisoning horror – drinking vodka saved my life

Bailey fell ill after a night out

Bailey Chalmers’s holiday hangover turned out to be something much more serious. Here the 19-year-old from Perth, WA, tells his story in his own words.

I felt a rush of excitement as I grabbed my bag and leapt out of the car. ‘Bye Mum,’ I yelled.

‘See you, darl’. Be safe and don’t drink spirits,’ she said.

I was off to Bali for five days with my footy team. Meeting the boys at the airport, we were all on a high as we chatted and laughed away.

‘I can’t wait for a few beers on the beach,’ I grinned to my mate Lachie.

Arriving in Bali that evening, we headed straight to our villa in Seminyak.

Before long, the music was pumping and the boys had cracked open some drinks.

Bailey Chalmers: It could have ended very differently (Credit: Supplied/Bailey Chalmers)

As we played games and joked about, I sipped on a vodka, which we’d bought from duty free, and a soda.

After draining the dregs of a second drink, we decided to head out.

Hailing a cab, we took the 20-minute ride to a nearby bar.

It seemed like a reputable bar and a cocktail was $14, so I thought I’d get myself a vodka and juice.

There was no way the spirits could be dodgy when they were charging that much, I figured.

Dancing with the boys, I got myself a second drink.

But once I’d finished that, I started to feel really drunk. I’d only had four drinks, how was this possible?

Bali is a popular tourist spot for young Australians (stock image) (Credit: Getty)

Head spinning, I decided to stop drinking. Several hours later, we headed home and I crashed out in bed.

Waking up the next morning, I groaned as my head pounded. I was definitely hungover.

‘I feel so rough,’ I moaned to Lachie.

‘Mate, did you take drugs last night? You were in a really weird, aggressive mood,’ he said.

‘What? No… of course not,’ I exclaimed. ‘I only had four drinks!’

Gulping down some water, I had a shower, hoping the hangover would fade.

But by 12pm, as we all sat around eating a late brekkie, I started to feel worse, not better.

Bali is a party destination (stock image) (Credit: Getty)

My body was aching and I had blurred vision.

I’d eaten, taken Panadol and downed heaps of water. Why wasn’t I feeling better?

Heading back to the villa to chill out, I felt no better.

One of the boys, Dylan, 21, had Bali belly and was going to the medical centre.

‘I’ll come with you buddy,’ I said.

As we sat in the waiting room, my body ached everywhere. I moaned to Dylan, ‘I’ve never had a hangover like this.’

A bloke sitting opposite us looked up. ‘It sounds like you’ve got methanol poisoning, my girlfriend is getting tested now. You should have the test,’ he said.

I’ll be right, I thought.

As we continued to wait, I texted my mum Danielle and told her how I was feeling.

You definitely should get tested love, she replied.

Nightlife in Bali (stock image) (Credit: Getty)

After blood tests, a nurse came to see me. ‘You’ve tested positive for methanol poisoning, you need to go to hospital,’ she said.

I couldn’t believe it.

My thoughts instantly went to Liam Davies, the Aussie teenager who had died from methanol poisoning in 2012. This was serious.

Hailing a taxi, I went to hospital.

Mum phoned me and said, ‘I’ve spoken to Colin Ahearn, a man who runs a Facebook page called Just Don’t Drink Spirits in Bali. You need to be treated ASAP.’

Despite telling hospital staff I needed urgent treatment, they said they wouldn’t start until I paid them $4000.

I contacted my travel insurance company, but they said it would take a few days to review my claim.

I felt helpless. ‘Please can you just help me?’ I begged a doctor.

‘We won’t be able to start treating you until the morning,’ he explained.

But that could be too late.

Bailey and his mum Danielle (Credit: Supplied/Bailey Chalmers)

Mum rang again, explaining how Colin had advised I needed to drink ethanol to treat the methanol.

‘If the hospital won’t treat you, it’s best if you go and drink vodka. Colin’s told me the exact amount for your body weight,’ she said.

Luckily, I had a relative living in Bali, so he picked me up from the hospital and took me to the villa.

Using duty-free vodka, I downed 160mls of straight vodka. Then, every hour, I drank another 40ml.

I felt a bit drunk, but could already feel my body getting better. And after six hours of vodka shots, I went to sleep.

I woke up in the morning feeling heaps better.

Mum had booked me a flight for that day, so I said goodbye to the boys and made my way home.

I gave her a huge hug when I saw her at the airport.

‘I’m so glad you’re okay,’ she cried.

We went straight to Perth hospital, where they checked my bloods and confirmed the methanol was out of my system. It was such a relief.

I’m so grateful to Colin and my mum for their help – my outcome could have been very different.

I want people to know the true risks involved if you’re drinking spirits in Bali.

Whether it’s a $1 or $20 cocktail, it doesn’t matter, there’s still a chance your beachside tipple could contain methanol.

It hasn’t put me off going to beautiful Bali again, but I know I’ll be sticking to beer or wine.


Danielle, 47, says:

When Bailey called to say he was feeling crook, I started to panic he’d been poisoned.

I dread to think what would have happened if Colin hadn’t passed on his knowledge.

I’m so thankful for his heroic help.

It’s great to have my boy back in one piece, but I hope that others reading this will realise just how dangerous a simple cocktail can really be.

Methanol Poisoning

Symptoms of methanol poisoning include dizziness or disorientation, difficulty breathing, convulsions and stomach pain and/or diarrhoea.

Seek immediate medical attention.

Methanol poisoning is usually treated by the drug Fomepizole.

However in urgent cases, ethanol can be taken via spirits with over 35% alcohol content, drunk according to bodyweight. The ethanol delays the body’s processing of methanol. Medical attention is still essential.

For information, please call the Poisons Information Service on 13 11 26.

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