Las Vegas is a city where the morning after the night before is like nowhere else in the world. Partygoers stagger through the streets like sickly vampires trying to beat sunrise, and hangovers are monster-sized.
But on an industrial estate across town, something is stirring that may just bring salvation to those for whom a dose of paracetamol and a few mugs of black coffee just won’t cut it.
Meet Dr Jason Burke and his team of four nurses and two paramedics – modern-day superheroes for the serious partygoer. For less than £100, Dr Burke, a 42-year-old Patrick Swayze lookalike, promises to rid you of your pain in an hour, using techniques he learnt during 15 years spent as a hospital anaesthetist.
Just hop on board his air-conditioned, converted bus – aptly named Hangover Heaven – where, in a soothing atmosphere with ambient music, the dehydrated and sickly are treated.
Huddled beneath a blue blanket, despite the 36ºC heat outside, is 21-year-old Michelle Smith, a business studies student from Seattle.
She’s been having a great time at the Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance-music extravaganza. Pale, vague, and shaking, she admits to an epic binge, mixing vodka and beer since her arrival in town 48 hours earlier. She’s been throwing up constantly for the past few hours.
“It’s almost laughable how awful I feel,” she groans. “But I’ve been having such an awesome time I don’t want a hangover to spoil everything.”
It’s Michelle’s first time, and she chooses the £102 “Salvation” package, which consists of a bag of saline fluids to rehydrate, as well as a powerful cocktail of medication, all administered intravenously.
Shooting through her veins is an anti-nausea drug to stop vomiting, an anti-inflammatory analgesic to tackle the thumping headache, antacids to settle the stomach, and vitamins and antioxidants said to help speed up her body’s natural “purging and repairing” process. They sound scary, but the website blurb assures clients that they are “perfectly safe” even taken in bulk.
If you’re not feeling so flush, you can choose the “Redemption” package for £63, which offers a bag of saline as well as one treatment for your worst symptom.
It takes around an hour to start working. Slowly Michelle’s colour begins to return: “This is a very cool idea,” she says. “I feel a million times better. Now I want to sleep and eat – and then let’s face it – go back out and start again.”
This is the sort of behaviour that has made father-of-two Dr Burke the target of an onslaught of criticism from various medical professionals, who have accused him of actively encouraging – some say facilitating – dangerous, excess drinking in the 24-hour party town.
He disagrees. People will get drunk in Las Vegas whether his bus is there or not, he argues. All he’s doing, he says, is taking away their misery a little quicker and allowing them to enjoy their holiday.
“The hangovers people get in Vegas are something else,” he says. “People will drink from noon till 3am, so hangovers here are two to three times worse.
“I’ve done my fair share of partying in my time. I’m never judgemental. We believe we are providing a valuable service. I want them to leave the city with good memories of Las Vegas.”
The idea came to him, he says, during a business brainstorming session 18 months ago. Originally, the plan was to pick up clients direct from their hotels, but the 45ft coach he bought – ironically from a Christian choir – proved too big for the hotel entrances, so they park it and fetch people via minibus instead.
Dr Burke insists the service he offers is responsible – and is for traditional hangovers only. Anyone who’s still drunk, or under the influence of drugs, will be turned away. Everyone has their blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation levels checked first to make sure they are fit for treatment. Any irregularities, and people are referred to hospital.
Dr Burke says he has seen a good number of Brits since he opened for business in April, with stag parties providing the bulk of his work.
“The British patients have been great. They can really put it away,” he says.
Next on the bus is 25-year-old graphic designer, and fellow festival-goer, Kirsti DeLong from San Diego.
Kirsti booked in for a Redemption treatment in advance: “I had a feeling I’d need this today”, she says, citing vodka and Red Bull as her poison. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.”
She compares the feeling to a gradual return to normality. It takes about an hour to work, after which she admits to feeling tired, but mercifully able to function – and party – again.
“I feel a lot better. My body doesn’t hate me any more,” she says.
The business has been such a success that Dr Burke is even looking at opening a franchise here in the UK.
Until then, we’ll have to stick to a greasy fry-up, washed down with a pot
of tea. It’s our closest thing to hope.
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