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Educating the masses
Travis Johnson of Frenchtown, left, gets an idea of what it's like to be drunk Saturday afternoon at Southgate Mall with the help of impaired-vision goggles and Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Smith. Missoula City Police Officers Ed McLean, center right, and officer Scott Oak, far right, aid another volunteer. The Missoula County Sheriff's Department sponsored the booth at this year's Missoula Chamber of Commerce Health Fair.
Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Health Fair at mall provides free information on everything from the effects of driving drunk to acupuncture

Saturday's Health Fair at Southgate Mall was many things to many people.

Lisa Courser of Frenchtown took a walk on the wild side, donning Fatal Vision goggles at the Missoula County Sheriff's Department booth and trying to walk a straight line.

"It's really hard," she said after tipping this way and that. "I mean, REALLY hard."

The goggles, which simulate the effects of a 0.2 alcohol blood level content, help people understand what booze does to them - while they're capable of processing the information.

Alcohol gives a person a false sense of security. "The goggles let you experience the physical impairment you have when you're drunk, but at a time when your judgment and reasoning are intact," said Deputy Joe McNeal. "You can see how difficult it is to function. Hopefully, if you understand how difficult it is just to walk, you'll think before you get behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound car next time you've been drinking."

Courser and others wobbled unsteadily down lines taped to the floor at the booth.

"You see two lines," Courser explained. "And when they tell you to lift your leg, you just can't do it. I can do it now, but with those glasses on, no way."

"Your brain tries to compensate, but it can't," Montana Highway Patrol officer Ken Breidenbach said. "When you're intoxicated, you can't process how impaired you are. We hope people do this, and make a note that next time they've been drinking, they'll find somebody else to drive, or call a taxi, or get help getting home."

Breidenbach had one more suggestion, too.

"I've arrested a lot of 'designated drivers,' " he said. "The soberest one in a group of drinkers does not make that person a designated driver.

"I've arrested designated drivers who looked just like that," he said as a man nearly fell over trying to walk the line while wearing the goggles.

Elsewhere at the Missoula Chamber of Commerce Health Fair, you could learn about acupuncture, sleep disorders, prenatal care - even erectile dysfunction. You could have everything checked from your blood pressure to your bone density.

Kay Smith, a former nurse herself, was taking advantage of all of it.

"Since I'm no longer covered by group insurance, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity," she said.

Smith had her cholesterol and glucose levels checked, went through the bone density screening, had a chiropractor check the alignment of her spine, and enjoyed a five-minute chair massage.

"I feel massage does a lot for what ails us in these stressful lives we lead," she said.

The bone density screening "gives us an indication of how we're holding up," Smith said. "Being a lady of experience, which is what I say instead of telling you how old I am, that's a matter of concern."

Smith, who spent 28 years in nursing, many at Community Medical Center, said none of the screenings she had done Saturday turned up anything alarming.

"It does my heart good to know that," she said. "This is a wonderful service. I pretty much take advantage of it, and have for the last couple of years."

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com

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