The town has Rock Chalk fever.
Lawrence doctors warn it’s contagious and, for the most part, healthy to have. But moderation is key.
Dr. Charles Yockey, a Lawrence Memorial Hospital pulmonologist and a diehard Kansas University fan, said as the team progresses its way through the bracket, the partying also progresses.
“People will drink more than they usually do, they will eat more snacks and salty foods, they smoke more cigarettes and drink more coffee — all of those are bad,” he said.
In preparation for Saturday’s Final Four matchup between KU and Ohio State, LMH has beefed up its emergency room staff. More patients are expected — win or lose.
“Intoxication and high-fiving vigorously results in dislocated shoulders. If we win Saturday, we will see at least two dislocated shoulders,” Yockey said. “If we lose, we will see at least two broken hands from people trying to pound their fist through the wall.”
Additionally, he said alcohol, salty snacks and stress are dangerous for anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease.
“People get so stressed that they have to leave the room. They want KU to win. They are afraid they’re going to lose. They don’t want to see the end,” Yockey said. “If it’s a close game, people get really emotional and really excited and the adrenaline flows and the alcohol flows. The snacks flow.”
Yockey said he doesn’t want to be a killjoy, but he has seen the ill effects of March Madness firsthand. In 1988, he saw 14 dislocated shoulders after the championship win.
His advice: moderation.
“Cheer on the ’Hawks. The sun will come up Sunday morning if we lose, and if we win, we will look forward to Monday night,” he said. “Keep it in perspective and have fun. Obviously, the people in Manhattan don’t have to worry about this.”
Dr. Marciana Vequist, a psychologist at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said so far the tournament has been good for Jayhawk fans’ mental health because the team is winning and people are happy, excited and proud. There’s a lot more socialization and community spirit.
She also said fans aren’t crazy to have rituals and superstitions. In fact, she’s among them.
Vequist watches with a group of friends. She said last year, they had to eat certain foods, including chocolate almonds and apricots, sit in the same positions and wear certain clothes. Well, that didn’t work. So this year, they’ve vowed to change it up.
On Saturday, she might wear her a lucky black T-shirt that has “Kansas” on it in white lettering, or she might wear a new red Final Four shirt. She’s not sure.
“Most of us are having a lot of fun with it, but if you really feel that you are having some kind of impact on the team by something you are doing or not doing, you might want to look at that,” she said.
She said March Madness can be much like the holidays. If people suffer anxiety from socialization or are recovering from alcoholism, this time of year might not be so fun. For others, the time can be euphoric.
And if the team loses this weekend, she said that shouldn’t lead to depression or other mental illness unless there were already underlying symptoms.
KU fan Dr. Steven Bruner, a family practice physician, said there will be a letdown — win or lose. It may take him a week to recover.
“If we lose to Ohio State or Kentucky, everybody will regret it but nobody will be disappointed. I think nobody expected us to get this far,” he said.
“If we win, it’s like the day after Christmas. Christmas was great, but man it’s going to be a long time before Christmas again.”
Bruner, who has been a Jayhawk fan since 1976, said he doesn’t consider March Madness unhealthy unless there’s too much drinking and someone ends up getting hurt.
He could see where fans — including him — might eat too many unhealthy foods or not get enough sleep due to watching the late games.
“Fortunately, it’s only a couple nights of the year — or, OK, six,” he said, laughing.
If Jayhawk fans do suffer a fall or have chest pains during a game, they tend to avoid the hospital like the plague.
Dr. David Rios, a Lawrence cardiologist, said, “It’s funny nobody comes into the hospital during games, but there’s a bit of a rush afterward. They will tolerate their chest pains until the game is over, and then they will come in.”
The other problem is that his hospitalized patients want to go home whether they are ready or not. If they have to stay in the hospital, they have to watch the game — no tests or nurses are to interfere.
“Let me tell you, these Jayhawk fans are something else,” Rios said, laughing.
When Rios moved to Kansas in 1999, he was hellbent on not being a KU fan. He had lived in New York and was sick of hearing about the Jayhawks.
“I thought when I get to Kansas, there is no way,” he said. “They are always the favorite and they go on and on about the tradition. So, when you are not a fan — it’s like North Carolina and Duke — you just don’t want to hear it.”
Then, his son, Chris, attended several KU basketball camps and his Jayhawk spirit rubbed off.
"Before I knew it, I had drank the Kool-Aid and now I probably own more Jayhawk material than anybody, and I have no affiliation whatsoever. I have never gone to school here. But I own more Jayhawk stuff than most people,” he said, laughing.
Rios said he earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and was thrilled that his alma mater made the NCAA tournament this year for the first time since 1946.
“On my bracket, they were playing KU in the Final Four,” he said. “Needless to say, it didn’t happen but I had to go with my heart.”
Rios said he didn’t know of anyone who had suffered an actual heart attack during a game, but he’s sure there’s been some chest pains.
“I try to watch it by myself. I can’t watch it with too many people. I need to be able to yell at the TV and yell at the refs, and I turn the TV off when I think I’m causing bad luck by watching,” he said. “I didn’t use to be a fan, and now I’m completely consumed. I absolutely drank the Kool-Aid.”
Nearly 900 people took advantage of the Tipsy Taxi on New Year’s Eve, a record number for the program sponsored by DCCCA, the drug prevention and substance abuse treatment agency.
The increased numbers were a result of more publicity about the service, which provided free rides home for people celebrating on New Year’s, said Jen Jordan, prevention coordinator at DCCCA.
“There was just quite a lot of buzz about it,” said Jordan of the Tipsy Taxi, now in its 27th year.
The 877 people who received rides is more than double last year’s total of 420. The program is funded by donations, primarily from area businesses, such as Johnny’s Tavern, which provided $200 this year.
“It’s part of my community responsibility,” said Rick Renfro, Johnny’s owner. Renfro said he’s been donating for the Tipsy Taxi every year, and would like to see it expand to other days of the year.
Jordan said this year’s service cost about $2,000, though the agency raised less than $1,000. DCCCA is still accepting donations, and those interested can call Jordan at 785-841-4138.
For many people, the holidays are a chance to celebrate with friends, family and co-workers. But it can also be a precarious time for anyone recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.
“Any celebratory event may raise the risk of relapse or pose a challenge to those recovering,” said Jody Brook, a social work professor at Kansas University. “We just happen to have an intense frequency of celebrations over the next six weeks.”
Add in potentially stressful interactions with family, and the holidays are the “perfect storm” of challenges for people struggling with substance abuse, Brook said.
Anyone in the early stages of recovery — less than a year — are particularly vulnerable, said Kendall Heiman, program director for Professional Treatment Services, 3205 Clinton Parkway Court.
Heiman said her agency always sees an influx of new and returning clients during the holidays and immediately following them.
Richard, a Lawrence man and recovering alcoholic who asked not to use his real name, said he tries to take a different view during the upcoming holiday season. Instead of fearing relapse into addiction, Richard, sober for more than two years, celebrates the freedom from substance abuse.
“When I was drunk, I wasn’t there,” Richard said of past holidays. “Or when I was there, I wasn’t there.”
But free from alcohol, “I get to be present for activities,” he said. “It’s really a time for me to make restitution.”
However, Richard, who assists other alcoholics by responding to a 24-hour hot-line, said he recognizes that for many people, the chances for relapse during this time of year are increased.
“We get a lot of calls all during the holidays,” he said.
It comes down to keeping up with recovery and the daily routines that have helped people stay sober, Heiman said.
With their clients, counselors help those in recovery create a relapse-prevention plan specific to this time of year, including exit strategies and other coping mechanisms for when relapse triggers occur.
Simply put, the holiday season is no time to take a holiday from recovery, Heiman said, and pointed out the daily Alcoholic Anonymous meetings that run consistently during this time of year.
“Lawrence is rich in recovery,” she said.
Tips to keep recovery on track
Jody Brook, social work professor at Kansas University, provided these holiday tips for family and friends of those in recovery:
- Just as you plan meals around those with specific dietary needs, plan for individuals who do not drink and have alternatives available
- Create a celebratory culture where it’s OK not to drink.
- Privately ask the person in recovery if there’s anything you can do to help.
- Be respectful of a person’s need to limit interactions in certain situations.
Resources for people in recovery
- The local Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA: Hotline number is 842-0110 and is answered 24 hours a day.
- A calendar for local AA meetings can be found at aa-ksdist23.org.
- The local Narcotics Anonymous, or NA: Hotline number is 749-6631.
- A calendar for local NA meetings can be found at marscna.net.
- Headquarters Counseling Center operates a crisis hotline, which can be reached at 841-2345.
A trio of leaders from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center will be available Thursday to answer questions about the center and mental health.
Pat Roach Smith, chief operating officer; Eunice Ruttinger, director of Adult Services; and Janice Storey, director of Children and Family Services, will be participating in an online chat at 11 a.m. Thursday on WellCommons.com. And, you can submit your questions at anytime right here.
Make sure to log back to WellCommons.com either during or after the chat to see if your questions were answered.
Bert Nash provides services for about 6,000 Douglas County residents each year.