For many high school graduates, Schoolies is made out to be one of the best weeks of their young lives. But for some, the reality is very different.
Reuben Ishmel, a recent school leaver who simply wanted to celebrate the end of a long year of study in 2018, was never supposed to be joining the thousands of teenagers celebrating at Surfers Paradise.
But a “snap” decision put him right in the thick of the drug and alcohol-fuelled action, despite orders from his parents not to attend the end-of-school celebrations on the Gold Coast.
The temptation was too strong, so the then 18-year-old snuck out of his Brisbane home to join in on the party scene erupting on Cavill Ave.
“I was never supposed to be there,” the now 19-year-old told news.com.au.
“My parents were really worried about it, but I snuck away anyway so I could go.”
But Mr Ishmel’s celebration ended almost as soon as it began, when he decided to accompany his friend to a public toilet before attending one of the big beach parties on the sand at Surfers Paradise.
“I had only been there for a few hours,” he said. “My friend was in the toilet, and I was waiting outside the door.
“While I was standing there, a guy grabbed my phone because he heard me mention I didn’t have a passcode on it.
“I thought he was joking around, but then it got heated and suddenly someone came from behind and hit me.”
Mr Ishmel said the moments after the coward punch are still a blur, until he woke up in a pool of his own blood.
“I passed out instantly,” he said.
“When I got hit, I spun around and hit my head on the sink. When I woke up, there was a lot of blood … like waterworks. I remember everyone standing around me, the guys who did it looked shocked and started shouting.
“I remember my friend got me up and walked me to the police tent … but the memory is still bits and pieces.”
The teenager was ushered into an ambulance, where he was given emergency medical treatment for a fractured skol, broken cheekbone and collapsed eye socket.
“When I arrived at the hospital, I wasn’t sure what had happened,” he recalls.
“They pumped me with drugs so the pain wasn’t too bad.
“After the surgery it was painful. I was heavily concussed, so I stayed in the hospital for a few days.”
It’s been a year and thousands of dollars worth of medical bills because of a horror hit that never should have happened. Mr Ishmel says his family was “saved” by having private health insurance, which reduced his initial surgery cost of $80,000 down to around $10,000.
Now, the 19-year-old lives with the constant reminder of being hit simply because he wouldn’t hand over his phone to a stranger.
“I don’t have any feeling on one side of my face, because there is a lot of nerve damage on my cheek,” he explained.
“There is still a bit of scarring on my eye, and a few surgery marks on my head and under my eyelid.
For months I was scared about going out … I was worried and on edge.
“You hear stories of this happening to people, but I never thought it would be me. But it’s quite common.
“People think it will never happen to them and then it does. I’m just lucky that I got to walk away.”
More than 25,000 students are expected to flock to the Gold Coast to celebrate Schoolies, while thousands more will travel to other coastal communities like Byron Bay to celebrate the end of high school.
After kicking off in mid-November, police and paramedics have been on high alert throughout the duration of the three week party which will conclude in early December.
According to online insurer Compare the Market, there are ways school leavers can stay safe while still enjoying their time away:
Be wary of balconies: Red Frogs received 425 emergency assistance calls last year alone during schoolies, one of the more common incidents reported was partygoers falling off balconies.
Keep in mind the expense of injuries: According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, roughly 22,000 patients visit an emergency department a day, so those at schoolies could be waiting for a very long time.
Obey the laws and watch out for fines: In Queensland, Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation inspectors can issue fines if partygoers are found drinking in public — or even holding a drink for a friend — and for being underage. This could add up to a $400 fine.
Watching alcohol contents and consumption: Unfortunately, alcohol poisoning can be an increased risk at party destinations. Methanol poisoning is a particular issue for those travelling abroad to celebrate, particularly if they are sampling traditional, home-brewed beverages.