Václav Kopal, then head of the internal department of the Přerov hospital, remembers the methanol affair with a feeling of anger, but also of helplessness at how useless everything was. Almost exactly ten years ago, the first people poisoned by methanol in the Olomouc region ended up in the local medical facility. In the hospital, three of them finally succumbed to the poisoning, others had permanent consequences. After Přerov, other cases began to appear in Prostějov and finally in Olomouc. According to the primary, there is no correct dirty Czech word for the originator of these poisonings.
Even after ten years, the doctor remembers the feeling of annoyance that the whole case caused in the health workers. “It was generally annoying that we were dealing with something that didn’t have to be at all. It was a completely unacceptable matter from a social point of view. It was unnecessary from the point of view that there were targeted poisonings caused by people who wanted to get rich from it. That’s the worst part. We tried to help those people, but it was often very difficult,” said doctor Václav Kopal.
The then primary met the first victim right away; the woman from Prosenice was brought in by rescuers on Sunday, September 9, 2012, already unconscious with a suspected stroke. Already during the initial examination, her heart stopped, and despite repeated resuscitation, the woman died. At the time, the health workers had no idea that this was the first case of a series of poisonings in the region – the lethal level of methanol in the blood and plasma was only proven by subsequent tests.
For the internist, cases of poisoning, which were initially characterized by light intoxication, followed by an interval of several hours without symptoms and then culminated in vomiting, impaired consciousness or vision, meant demanding work with an uncertain result. Ten years ago, they did not have antibodies available. “We were reliant on treating it with alcohol, which competes with methanol for metabolism. After that, dialysis started, which is able to eliminate it,” added the doctor. He believes that with the passage of time and based on experience, the balance of the case would probably be more favorable now. “There is already experience with it. That chance would be greater, but let’s hope it never happens to us again,” noted the then prime minister.
Patients in the most severe stage of poisoning ended up in the Přerov hospital at the ARO, while the doctors tried to get away with as few consequences as possible. Nevertheless, even here they were affected by the loss of sight. “Methanol metabolites damage the retinal nerve, which is why vision is lost. It depended on how early it was detected and what the dose was. If it is detected in time and removed by dialysis or now with an antibody that is already available in the country, the chance is greater. If the poisoning reaches a severe level, the loss of vision can be permanent,” added Václav Kopal.
The outcome of the methanol scandal in Přerovsk was ultimately tragic – it had four victims. In addition to the woman from Prosenice, a forty-five-year-old man from Napajedel, who lived in a hostel in Osek nad Bečvou, died in the local hospital on September 11, 2012; a twenty-one-year-old girl was found already dead in this hostel. On Wednesday, September 12, a seventy-three-year-old man from Brodek u Přerov died of poisoning in the hospital. The risk was great then, police officers with megaphones warned Přerovans about alcohol poisoning. And even ten years later, these memories are still alive for many people. “I wouldn’t drink from an unverified source even today, that’s for sure,” added the doctor.