In the words of every person who’s ever had too much to drink: Hangovers are the worst. They also cost a lot of money. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economy suffers about $161 billion a year in lost productivity from people who are too hung over to do their jobs. People like Michael Thorns, a fundraising officer for the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who was once so hung over he fell asleep in a training meeting with his manager. Oscar Madrigal, a call center supervisor in Costa Rica, came to work still drunk from a Super Bowl party and couldn’t remember his computer password—so he took a nap for six hours. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
Dr. Jack Dybis, a 45-year-old trauma surgeon at Evanston Hospital near Chicago, is out to end the curse, one overserved soul at a time. Two months ago, Dybis opened Revive, a hydration clinic that claims to be able to cure lingering jet lag or a wicked hangover by hooking patients up to a rehydration IV. “It’s a well-known trick among doctors and paramedics,” says Dybis. When he was younger, he and his friends sometimes used IV bags to help them get through 36-hour rotations at the hospital. “We put nails in the wall over our beds so we could hang an IV bag whenever we needed one,” he says. Most IV solutions are nothing but saline and vitamins. At Revive, Dybis can add nausea or headache medicine, depending on your needs. The whole process takes less than an hour and costs $99.
Revive isn’t the first hangover cure in a bag. Dr. Jason Burke, an anesthesiologist, does the same thing out of a bus on the Las Vegas Strip. Burke’s business, Hangover Heaven, recently started making house calls to hotel rooms; over New Year’s Eve weekend he served 80 clients (his prices range from $99 to $199), including one guy who puked 25 times. “Then there was the woman who showed up at 2 p.m. sick on cheap Chardonnay,” says Burke. “She was throwing up uncontrollably but wanted to be able to eat dinner at Craftsteak with her husband.” Burke worked his magic, and the woman ate her steak.
A hangover cure that actually worked sounded too good to be true and begged a rigorous investigation. Someone needed to get drunk—and that someone was me. I organized a team consisting of a photographer named Ryan, some of Ryan’s pals, and my high school friend Julia, who provided useful commentary: “This is much more fun than the time we mixed gin with Diet Sprite in your parents’ basement.”
We started the evening at Scofflaw, a craft cocktail lounge where every drink contains at least seven ingredients, none of which are Diet Sprite. At one point we did shots of something called Malört, which sounds like a Harry Potter villain but is actually a bitter wormwood liquor that’s made and sold only in Chicago. “I like it because it tastes like a bunch of chemicals I’m not supposed to drink,” said Matt, Ryan’s roommate. Then Matt and Ryan suggested we go to a Goth club. Under Malört’s spell, this sounded like a great idea.
It was a terrible idea. The next morning, the Malört and the Goth club, plus my workweek exhaustion and a slight cold, all left me feeling, on a scale from 1 to 10, like I wanted to die. I hadn’t eaten much dinner, and I’d forgotten to drink water before bed—two things Dr. Michael Oshinsky, a hangover headache researcher at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, recommends as preventives. Oshinsky explains that I felt so horrible because my liver had converted the alcohol into a toxin called acetaldehyde, which has been linked with nausea and other hangover symptoms, and then into acetate, which causes headaches. “But alcohol is also a diuretic, so on top of that you’re dehydrated, and you lose electrolytes,” he says.
I crawled over to Revive, where Dybis had me fill out some paperwork and asked questions about my medical history, such as “You don’t have any kidney problems, right?” One nurse took my blood pressure while another, Samantha, assured me that injecting myself with a giant bag of fluid wasn’t a big deal. “I did it last week when I was hung over,” she said. “You’ll feel great afterward. But you’ll have to pee a lot.”
The nurses put a needle in my arm and hooked up the IV bag while Dybis explained what he’d prescribed. He crafts each solution to fit the patient’s needs and had ordered me up a standard saline mixture full of potassium, vitamin C, and calcium, along with an anti-inflammatory drug called Toradol—a favorite of National Football League players—that promised to relieve my headache. Dybis also gave me a dose of vitamin B, which turned the IV bag bright yellow. “You may start to taste the vitamins in your mouth,” Dybis warned. Within a minute, I felt like I was licking a large One A Day.
The nurses moved me to a secluded room with lounge chairs, blankets, magazines, mint gum, coconut water, and cold eye masks. In another room, a man in his mid-30s sat on a couch with his IV bag, watching football on a large, flat-screen TV. Revive is technically a medical facility, but it looks more like a spa: Patients recuperate separately in rooms that offer everything from wooden desks for busy professionals to quiet, windowless areas perfect for people with the flu. (Revive has recently been treating a lot of flu patients; the hydration and vitamins alleviate the symptoms.) About 10 customers come to Revive each day, usually in the morning and almost always alone. “Sometimes we’ll get a group of friends who went out the night before,” Samantha said. “It’s fun to listen to their stories about what they did to land them in this place.”
It took two IV bags and a second shot of Toradol, but after about an hour I was fully hydrated and ready to go. My headache was gone, and I actually felt better than I do most workdays. Dybis wasn’t surprised; he has one patient who’s started coming into the clinic just for the pick-me-up. “The last time she showed up I told her I didn’t think she needed an IV. This is a medical facility, not a theme park. You can’t just come in here and ask to ride the ride,” he said as the nurses wrapped gauze on my arm where the IV had been and told me to apply pressure to lessen the likelihood of a bruise.
Afterward, I met Julia for lunch. “It worked!” I told her. “That’s cool,” she said. “I just had a cup of coffee and some water. I feel better, too.”