Day eight and I’m back on sweep, my heart sulking, kicking piles of dust around inside my chest; my last day in the desert and I’m to spend it sweating and dozing, sidelined and surplus.
I pack up breakfast for the sweep team, flatbreads, sausages, bacon and pots of honey, fruit and juice, crammed into sweaty polystyrene packets. Baz drives me back to the rest-house and I find my team, shuffle into their ranks, kicked-dog head down, apologising for myself and my presence.
These guys are, in general, much nicer than the last lot. Friendly and welcoming, packing me into a four by four, laughing at my tales of the last sweep I did.
“Well, maybe you can show me a better day?” I enquire, hoping to make some friends. I am met with a dead pan glare from the driver of the lead car.
“We’re not here to show you a good time, we’re here to work.”
Once again I realise I’m back to being the new boy, having spent the week proving myself, fitting in, earning my spurs, now I’m just another passenger in their team.
My work starts over.
My driver is fantastic, instantly gets me to work, involved and explaining everything as we deflate the tires on the vehicle – “You can be the tire bitch for the day…” We head off in convoy, dipping and swinging through the dunes like last time, but this time with happy banter over the radio, my driver throwing me a race chart, explaining the features and navigational points by which we’re meant to make our way through the sand.
It may be the same trick as getting a bored kid to count yellow cars on a long journey, but it engages me and suddenly I understand what the rally drivers are doing, how they progress along the route, spotting dunes and berms, barrels and posts along the road side. The race chart even describes the types of sand we’re rumbling over, I begin to appreciate the differences, realising the skill and presence of mind it takes to drive in this environment.
Our vehicle being lower slung than the lead car, my driver spends some time picking routes around sand bowls and over dune lips, not wishing to ground himself unnecessarily. We lose sight of the lead car behind a dune but are called back into convoy with a terse message on the radio.
“We need the medic. Get Nursey up here. Now.”
My driver floors it up and over the dune. Punching through the arrete we see the lead truck parked beside a floored bike, the sand around it mashed and thrown apart. As we drive closer I spot the rider sitting on the lead truck’s trailer, his helmet off, staring into the middle distance. I hop out of the my motor and make my way over.
“Hi there mate, I’m Kal, one of the medics. What’s your name?”
“Hi Ashram, can you tell me what happened?”
He looks at the bike in the sand, tries to peer around at the surrounding dunes, but is stopped by my hands on his temples.
“Just look straight ahead at me, please Ashram, try not to move your head. You were going to tell me what happened?”
He furrows his brow.
“I think I came off my bike.”
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
He looks down at the hard packed sand on the ground, kicks it with his toe.
“I’m not sure…On this? Fast. I would be fast.”
“Maybe about a hundred?”
I don’t understand the metric system, but I’m aware that a hundred KPH equals roughly 70mph. I think.
Fuck it, even if my calculations are off? This is a man whose job it is to drive over the desert quicker than everyone else and he described himself as driving “fast”.
Good enough for me.
I gesture at his jacket and neck brace; every motorcycle crash I’ve ever attended in Edinburgh has been played out against a background of grousing about leathers.
Bikers hate having their jackets cut, they whine bitterly when we try to, opting instead to thrash their necks and backs around as they writhe out of their clothes on the floor. Clearly, given the option between paying for a new jacket or having a knackered cervical spine, the latter is the more attractive option.
The racers out here have no such hang-ups; possibly because they’re all sponsored up the wazoo – a new jacket won’t make a dent in your racing budget if an oil company has paid for you to be here in the first place. Ashram smiles and shrugs as I unclip his neck brace and slide his jacket down his shoulders.
“If you need, you can cut…” he begins, but I’m down to his neck without breaking out my shears. I walk my fingers down his spine.
“Any pain here? Or here? Or here?”
“No, no, no.” He answers without a shred of impatience or irritation, he seems genuinely glad to be looked after, a refreshing change from home.
The only injury I can find on Ashram is a deep purple bruise on his forehead, just over his left eye. I’m a little concerned as to where that’s come from, considering that he had a helmet on.
More concerning to me is the fact that he can’t remember hitting his head off anything, but then, he can’t remember coming off his bike either. Memory gaps in head injuries are a bad sign, this guy’s going to hospital. Hell, at home, I’d be crashing him into resus based on the indicent history alone.
I wrap a collar around his neck, leave my hands on his temples, tell him to keep staring straight ahead and call over my shoulder to the sweep team.
“Could one of you shout up for a chopper, please?”
There’s a pregnant pause before they laugh at me, one of them grins in a way that can only signify “Aye, good one, Kal.”
I stare for a moment.
“Guys? Can you call for an aircraft.”
They blink back at me.
“What do you want a helicopter for?”
I would have thought that was obvious.
“Because I want to cas-evac him and we can’t do that in our trucks.”
“But he’s alright.”
“We don’t know that. Can you just make the call, please?”
“But what do you want to fly him out for? He’s not hurt. Look at him.”
Communication is everything, Kal. There is no situation that can’t be overcome with education and mutual understanding. .
“He’s come off his bike at a hundred plus KPH, his head was travelling at the speed and has hit something, we don’t know what, and now he has unexplained head injuries and a history of unconsciousness. He’s getting immobilised and flown out.”
“Are you kidding me? I’ve had worse than this on my bike and ridden home.”
Fuck’s sake, even bams on Leith Walk will call an ambulance for you if you ask them….I silently count to ten and am disappointed with its calming effects.
Why are we discussing this? More to the point, why the fuck are we discussing it in front of the patient?
Fizzing, I weigh up my options and faced elect to pull rank.
“Who’s the medic, mate?”
“Thankyou. Call a helicopter, please.”
Grumbling, he heads back to his vehicle, calls up to Patch and relays the message via the iridium satellite comms system that all the vehicles carry.
I slide a cannula into Ashram’s wrist and am debating the pros and cons of fluid therapy for him (dehydration vs increasing blood pressure on a closed head injury) when I’m interrupted by a steady whupping noise over the horizon.
Behind me, coming out of the sun like a benevolent orange angel comes the 412. It lands a hundred yards away and Hurls, Laura and Christina jump out, hurrying over. I bring them up to speed and together we secure Ashram onto a spinal board before lifting him over the sand and into the belly of the aircraft.
I’m walking back towards the sweep vehicles when I realise with a start that Ashram is leaving with my first-response kit’s one wide-bore IV in his arm – what if I need to get access on another patient later today? I have to restock.
Waving my hands above my head to attract the pilot’s attention I point towards myself, then the doors of the aircraft. He nods, throttles down and sits the chopper a little more securely on the sand while I run up to the side door. Laura peers at me out of the window, clouds of dust and sand whipping around me. I sling the side door open and bellow over the blades.
“Need another IV set!”
She nods, digs in her kit and replens me, I’m about to leave when Christina shouts something that I miss. I lean into the cabin and she puts her mouth next to my ear and yells.
“Great job, kiddo!”
I’m ducking my head as I run from the helicopter, just as I’ve been trained, but I’m walking a foot taller inside.
The sweep team and I saddle up, one of the drivers moans that I’ve “dripped blood all over the sand”, but the tone has changed. I’ve shown them I know my stuff and together we head off into the dunes.