A Vancouver couple had a nightmare experience in Bali after they drank alcohol that was laced with methanol.
Twenty-five-year-old Krauzby Rea and his fiancée, 24-year-old Amanda Mawdsley, travelled to the Indonesian province for a vacation in September. The couple had drinks at a resort with 4.5-star reviews and were trying to be careful about what they consumed.
Rea describes himself as an experienced traveller; he says always tries to gather safety advice for the places he's going to. But he'd never heard of anyone experiencing methanol poisoning — particularly in a nice resort.
On their second night in Bali on Sept. 28, the couple each ordered a cocktail made with gin. They finished the drinks quickly because they wanted to watch a performance outside of the restaurant area of the resort.
"The performance lasted about 15 minutes and immediately after it ended I was in the bathroom violently puking," Rea tells Vancouver Is Awesome.
While he was feeling terrible, Rea brushed it off at first; he thought he might have a bad case of what some travellers refer to as "Bali belly": an upset stomach that travellers often get, which is caused by consuming foods, spices, and other things that aren't part of their regular diet.
After continuing to feel awful, Rea started looking into his condition online. He found a Facebook group entitled "Just Don't Drink Spirits In Bali" that described his symptoms and why he might be feeling them: methanol poisoning.
Horrified, the Canadian traveller contacted the group's administrator, Simon, for more information on how he could prevent his symptoms from worsening. While there are a host of negative reactions to consuming methanol, the most severe are blindness and death, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Simon's advice might sound shocking, but Rea says it likely saved his life and his eyesight: drink more alcohol.
Bali vacation turns into a nightmare for Vancouver couple
The following day the couple each drank several beers in an effort to stop or delay the progression of the methanol poisoning. Mawdsley also had some negative symptoms after she consumed the drink, but they were significantly milder. Still, she says she drank the alcohol out of an abundance of caution because they weren't sure what had made her sick.
While most people would suggest visiting a hospital before hitting the bottle, the couple wasn't offered a great deal of help from any of the local medical facilities.
"I ended up going to the hospital because I was in really rough shape," he explains. "The first hospital didn't treat me because they weren't able to test or treat methanol poisoning."
Another hospital about an hour away also denied treating Rea for methanol poisoning, he says.
While the second hospital provided him with IV fluids, vitamins, and nausea medication, Rea was very worried about his vision. Initially, he felt "completely drunk" halfway through consuming the poisoned drink. He felt drunk for roughly 15 hours after he ingested it but gradually started to feel sober, except for his eyesight.
Rea describes his eyes feeling sore and having a headache, saying the pain had "gotten progressively worse."
The Vancouver couple flew to Seattle on Sunday night and drove back home, cutting their vacation short by about 10 days. An ophthalmologist told Rea that his eyes look completely fine but they will perform some follow-up tests.
While they are both thankful they figured out what was wrong via the Facebook group, Rea says the experience was terrifying.
"When I was going from the first hospital to the second one, I thought like, that was 'it.' Like I didn't make it. I was feeling hopeless. I was blacking out in the vehicle, losing consciousness a lot," he describes.
"And it was to the point where I wrote a goodbye letter on my phone to send people...it was a close call, for sure."
While Rea's experience was deeply traumatic, he is far from alone. In fact, instances like his aren't uncommon, with numerous people sharing their experiences of methanol poisoning online.
Tragically, many people have died from ingesting tainted alcohol.
Methanol poisoning incidents around the world
In a recent story, a 31-year-old Aussie traveller was photographed in a hospital bed with a bottle of Bacardi, attempting to reverse the effects of methanol poisoning.
Between February 23 and May 2, 2020, there were a staggering 5,876 hospitalizations and at least 800 deaths as a result of a contaminated alcohol supply, according to National Geographic.
Multiple cases have also been reported in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and even the United States.