From the comfort and safety of my kitchen table I’ve watched media reports of the “ice epidemic” supposedly “sweeping the nation”. While serving dinner to my young family I’ve watched teenage boys writhing in agony in public parks, parents hoping their prized possessions are not hocked to the porn broker for their kids’ next hit and Emergency Department doctors warning us of the dangers of crystal methamphetamine, or ice.

On a Wednesday night in a regional Victorian hospital Emergency Department three young men were shackled to trolleys as they writhed, bathed in sweat, screaming deliriously. Hospital security guards were posted at each bed. The curtains couldn’t block the screaming and swearing from these boys and the whole department was tense. Diagnosis: ice.

This was one of my first shifts as a novice nurse in the Emergency Department and I learnt first hand that this is no media beat up. This is real. And those same parents who are watching the reports on TV and thinking it only happens somewhere else and to someone else’s kids may suddenly be confronted with a reality which is hard to swallow.

Around the corner, in a separate room I discovered a middle aged man who was shaken, upset and keen for a chat to pass the time while he waited for x-ray results. His wife cried silently while he recounted the events of his day. His youngest son was one of the ice users and that day had tried to kill him.

His son, under the influence of ice, had trashed the family home, smashing holes in walls and destroying furnishings, and then turned on his dad. The bruising and lacerations were clear evidence of the type of attack this man had come under. At the time, this father had thought he was going to die at the hands of his son. While he had been brought in by ambulance, his son had been brought in by the police.

The shattered father wondered what he’d done wrong; after all, the other two kids had turned out just fine. I asked what would happen now and the wife gave a wry laugh, explaining that their son had been taken to the Mental Health wing of the hospital overnight and would then be sent straight back home. “Do you have kids?” he asked.

Back out in Emergency, the other two ice users were quiet. Perhaps they’d finally passed out, their swollen brains unable to cope with the barrage. This was Wednesday. Thursday would probably be just the same. Good kids from good families, doing something very, very bad while we watch and wonder and serve up dinner.