I like to drink. What I like about drinking — the first drop to hit your tongue, the two-beer buzz, the giggly conversations with new friends — is quickly tarnished by the next morning's hangover.
I can drink a lot, sure. But I also experience some of the worst Sunday mornings with splitting headaches and almost-throwing-up gags. When it's really bad, I'm not even hungry.
My go-to cure? Eight hours of couch sleep followed by a hefty dose of takeout Chinese. Needless to say, my hangover remedy isn't practical for everyone, and if I had any shred of dignity left after an evening of dancing (all arms, no hips), I'd care enough to find a better solution.
Enter: Renew IV Spa. When I first heard about this place on King Street, a bona fide medi-spa, I was wary. Needles? No. And also, who's sticking fluids in my arm? Most importantly, how is this any different from drinking a ton of water?
I visited Renew to see what executive directors Frank Wells and Matt Erickson had to offer.
"Cancer patients, busy moms, athletes, they're all wasted," says Wells, standing in the spa's brightly lit lobby. And by wasted, Wells doesn't mean drunk. He's talking about the general depletion most people struggle with on a daily basis, adding, "Everyone's already dehydrated."
Whether this is technically true or not, Wells and Erickson emphasize what the IV does that drinking water cannot — it hydrates your cells, getting right into your blood system so that your body doesn't, well, pee it out. They aren't just making this up. Erickson's a physician's assistant and everyone who administers IVs, doctors, PAs, or nurse practitioners, is medically licensed to do so. "It's not Joe Schmos," says Wells. "This is a doctor's office."
Guests first sign a waiver and fill out their medical history before receiving any treatment. A nurse or doctor takes the patient's blood pressure, listens to their breath and heart beat, and explains exactly what's about to happen. Patients can receive treatment in a group room which overlooks Upper King and features four recliners and a flat screen TV that plays Netflix, Amazon, and cable. There are also several private treatment rooms for people who are sick or just don't want to get a needle stuck in them in front of an audience. The typical treatment lasts 40 minutes.
And according to Erickson, it's a deal of a treatment. He says that Renew's prices are lower than other IV and hydration clinics. One IV session will cost ya $59, with additional meds tacked on to the normal three costing $15 a pop. For example, the Immunoboost includes trace minerals, B complex vitamins, and Vitamin C, but you could add Zofran, an anti-nausea drug, for an extra $15. Renew has also re-branded itself since opening so that its logo reads, IV Spa & Walk-in Clinic, placing an emphasis on their urgent care comparable treatments, which cost $64 for a physical exam and written prescription and $78 for that plus two injections.
For comparison we looked up some other IV spa rates. Hydrate Medical, a Charlotte-based IV spa offers a standard Hydrate Hangover for $129, New Orleans' Remedy Room also offers IVs starting at $129, and Charleston's newest IV spa, Vida-Flo, which just opened on Calhoun Street, offers treatments for $99.99 or $49.99 with the purchase of a membership.
"We're frugal," says Erickson, pointing to coat hooks on the spa's group treatment walls, which cost a lot less than standard issue medical supply hooks. The office also doesn't take insurance, hence the flat rate, and accepts cash, a tantalizing aspect that Wells admits some college kids may jump at if they come down with a sickness they don't want their parents to know about.
But Renew IV Spa wasn't designed with college kids and drunks in mind. While the guys will help anyone who walks in, they don't want to enable anyone who appears to have a bigger problem, be it physical, emotional, or mental. Says Erickson, "If we notice an issue that is beyond our scope we will look into it and coordinate the correct specialist depending on the patient's issue."
Armed with info about how IVs help replenish and renew, I had big plans to get drunk on Saturday night and head in for an IV treatment on Sunday. In a seasonally appropriate plot twist, I came close to having to call the whole thing off when I began to feel the effects of my roommate's (who also happens to be my identical twin) violent stomach virus on Friday morning.
But, friends, the press stops for no man, and I needed to soldier through whatever germs were coursing through my body. Desperate for a quick fix I called Erickson and asked if an IV could save me from my sister's fate. He told me that I had a 50/50 chance of bypassing the virus with the help of an IV, the Immuno Boost, that would include trace minerals, B complex vitamins, and Vitamin C, so I decided to go in on Friday.
Sitting in the recliner that afternoon, I pinched my eyes shut tight as the cheery nurse practitioner, Erica Smith, popped a needle into my vein, sending me into an instant frenzy and almost immediate desire to jump ship, vomit, and beg for mercy — I've never had an IV and the mere thought of it is enough to make me queasy, let alone an actual needle pushing liquid into my body.
The fear passed and I observed the room's two other inhabitants, two girls who looked college age, and who I assumed were in there for the hangover treatment. I didn't ask, and doctor/patient confidentiality would prevent anyone from confirming, but the chicks looked pretty beat. They chatted happily, perused Netflix, and told Smith that their headaches were gone by the end of the 40-minute session. Sucking in gulps of air, I hoped my bag would prove as magical.
I went home, ate a lot of salty foods, and went to sleep with my fingers crossed. I never got sick, although my body felt fatigued as if it were recovering from something.
The Hangover 4
Saturday continued as planned. The night's open bar helped me down about eight vodka sodas, and post-soiree I chugged a couple beers. I made it home alive, fell asleep at 2 a.m., and woke up feeling like shit. Mission accomplished.
The next morning I lazed on my couch for several hours before forcing myself to head downtown. The soft pull of the cushions teased me — couldn't I just sleep this one off like I always do? But for the sake of science I headed in for IV round two.
Walking up the steps to Renew, I felt like I was coming to meet an old friend. Smith had me fill out the medical history form (you've got to fill one out every time you come in), took my blood pressure, listened to my heart, and stuck me with the second IV of my life.
This one contained B complex vitamins, Zofran for anti-nausea, and Toradol, which Smith, who spent 12 years as an NP in MUSC's emergency room, called the "king of ibuprofen." The minute the cool liquid began to seep into my vein, I sighed happily into my chair. I can see how this could get addictive, which is precisely the opposite of what Renew IV spa wants.
"We don't exist to help you bar hop," says Erickson. Instead, Renew IV Spa says they want to treat people holistically, targeting any deeper issues someone may have, and referring them to another medical source, say a psychologist or nutritionist, to help them out.
I left Renew on Sunday with a reduced headache, more energy, and a body that felt like it wasn't hit by a bus, but maybe just by a hybrid car. All of that is to say that I didn't feel "cured" from my IV. But I did feel better, similar to how I feel after five or six hours on the couch.
What it all means
Everyone I've talked to about this experiment has expressed both excitement and concern, with a couple nurses raising their eyebrows so high I thought I'd have to help them get those suckers back down. The question becomes: is this too good to be true? Can I really quick-fix any of my ailments with a 40-minute treatment? As adamantly as Erickson and Wells insist that the point of Renew is to do just that — renew, replenish, replace — it's hard not to view the IVs as no-fail cures. Because, comparatively, they can be seen as that, especially to a really hungover frat boy with plenty of cash to spend.
America's first IV spa, Hangover Heaven, was started by Dr. Jason Burke in Las Vegas in 2012. The concept quickly turned into a mobile bus that traveled all over, "curing" hangovers with the standard saline-based vitamins and antioxidant IV treatments. The trend seems to have spiked in 2013, with Time and CBS New York asking readers "Are IV clinics for you?" and declaring "IV Drips are the latest rage."
The Time article addressed the million-dollar question: are IVs safe? Dr. Gail D'Onofrio, chief of the Emergency Department at Yale-New Haven Hospital and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine says, "If a person is capable of drinking liquids by mouth there is no reason for an IV. This is like using a bulldozer to do something that you can do with a shovel." There's certainly a lack of current info and research on the safety of IV treatment, with an initial Google search pulling top results from dates no later than 2013.
At the end of the day, Renew's Hangover Boost isn't designed to be a "cure," and they make that clear: You'll feel better, but you won't feel great. As much good stuff as those IVs put into your body, they can't take the alcohol out. It pounds behind your head and sweats out through your pores. You drank too much and your body will recover when it's damn well ready. As Time says, "As painful as hangovers may be, they are the body's natural way of telling you not to drink so much, and the hurt should act as a built-in deterrent to finding yourself in the same state too often." Touche.
Would I get another IV? In a second. But I'll try to hold off. For now, several plates of melted cheese, a soft couch, Netflix, and a tirelessly supportive dog have got me covered. For the IV's price tag of $59 I can get more Chinese food than I've ever contemplated. And that sounds like a pretty good time to me.