If you get a headset with working comms in the back of the heli, you stay up to date when the aircraft gets tasked. If not, you have to depend on reading the situation, the sudden tension in the shoulders of your SAR crew as they write down coordinates to confirm with each other, passing a notepad back and forth. Better to write them down than recite them.
On this job we flew to a biker who’d landed heavily in a sandbowl, compressing his thoracic spine until one of the bones exploded, squishing a section of his cord out and knackering his sensation below his waist.
The heli landed once and then the pilot decided he didn’t like the spot he’d chosen, took off again, spun the aircraft through 90 degrees and dropped us down again. In the sand the rotors had thrown up, we were completely disoriented when we debussed and the four of us had to run to the top of a dune to get a visual on the crash site.
Tom and I had planned our approach – he’d take the head and airway, I’d do the rest. But I’m first by his side as we jog over the sand and without thinking about it I slide in on my haunches, taking his temples between my hands.
“Stay still and don’t move, I’m Kal, one of the medics.”
And then, because you can’t take it for granted in an event like this.
“Do you speak English?”
He does, introduces himself. A Kiwi. I pass his head to Tom when he joins us and we get to business.
He’s scared, understandably, but cooperative and accepting of our attention, lying stock still as I slash and hack at the straps holding his armour to his chest and shoulders. My scissors split and fall apart, I’d known the screw holding them together was dodgy, so I move to my knife, sliding the blade up his sleeve and making a nick, then ripping the clothes apart with my hands.
Certain things don’t change, regardless of where you are – the patient frets about his wife, their kids, staying at the hotel. He called her already and I marvel at the partners of these racers who can receive a call “I’m injured, bad, and waiting for the helicopter. I love you.”
We package him on the spinal board, shove a needle in one arm and haul him across the sand back to the helo. Inside he gets all the analgesia we can give him, paracetamol and declofenac, the sort of stuff that back home you’d get from the doctor for a pulled muscle. The laws here forbid the carriage of opiates outside hospital, and you can get imprisoned for importing cocodamol, so the idea that we might have buckets of morphine on our belts is a pipe dream.
The emergency department we touch down in has been renovated since I was here last, now its clean and shining, with endless hands that come from the walls to roll your patient into a designated trauma room.
While Tom hangs back with the patient, I approach one of the nurses.
“Excuse me, I wonder if we could replace some equipment we’ve used with this patient?”
“Yes sir, of course.”
He leads me to a supply cupboard stacked to the roof.
“What do you need, sir?”
“Some IV supplies, a few bags of fluid.”
“I’ll get you a bag, please, help yourself.”
“I’m from Scotland, sir. You tell me to do that, there’ll be nothing left when you come back.”
He laughed back at me.
“Help yourself, we have lots. Whatever you need.”
And so it was with bags laden that I walked back to the aircraft, Wayne laughing at me.
“Something like that. Let’s get out of here before they change their mind…”