On Halloween weekend this year, eleven KCL wilderness medics headed off to Bristol for the society’s inaugural freshers’ trip. All we had been told was that the Somerset and Avon Search and Rescue Team were going to be entertaining us for the weekend – and entertain us they did! Throughout the weekend we had a lot of fun and many opportunities for excitement – as well as some useful learning thrown into the mix.
Bright and early on the Saturday morning, we were given an introduction to the Search and Rescue services, and how they fit in with the rest of a casualty’s journey from injury to hospital. We had a recap of the principles of casualty assessment (DR ABCDEFG), and discussed the challenges of applying it to situations in which the search and rescue team might be involved (ie dangerous situations!). We were then thrown straight into the deep end, with a call-out for assistance for a man collapsed under a car and an engineer who appeared to have dozed off while working on some gas pipes…there were many learning points with these scenarios, and we began to appreciate the non-medical factors that would pose challenges to a medical team. During a much-needed tea break, we received a call saying a man was having suicidal thoughts at the top of a construction tower. This highlighted some of the difficulties teams experience with communication and command and control. Lunch was a time for reflection on some of the difficulties we had faced, but also how much we had improved in a matter of hours.
The afternoon was spent experiencing some of the specialist situations the team might face – an abseil, which required some of the team to really face their fears with heights, and then some caving. Caving was a new experience for most, and perhaps the most striking learning point was when we were deep inside, and were instructed to switch our lamps off – the absolute absence of any form of light is something most of us had never experienced before! Unsurprisingly, we found a ‘casualty’ deep inside the cave, and had to work quite hard to get him out, over all the nooks and crannies!
The Sunday morning was a surprise exercise, with two casualties needing help. One was at the bottom of a muddy hill, the other at the top of a cliff. Both required a lot of cerebral work to decide how we would go about rescuing these guys – we really were thrown into the technical deep end, with aviation maps, explosives and the prospect of a cliff rescue! We reached both casualties in time, but the question was how to evacuate them. With the first, we had the opportunity to use the skills we had learnt the day before, with a stretcher carry up a slippery muddy hill. Not realising how realistic the team were going to get with the scenarios, for the second casualty, we found ourselves quite literally at the top of a cliff, with no other way down. With a fair amount of instruction, team KCL performed a heroic cliff rescue, stretcher and all and got the patient to safety – were it for real, it would have been worthy of a newspaper story!
All in all, a fantastic weekend. From the basic review of assessing casualties to the advanced cliff and cave rescues, and a bit of fun thrown in, the entire group agreed they had learnt a huge amount. Even if we don’t go on to become search and rescue medics, it is was an invaluable insight into what the casualties we receive in the emergency department would have been through before arriving at hospital. It was also very revealing how difficult the job of the search and rescue teams can be. Additionally, everyone got a chance at leading the team, again, an invaluable experience. All that is left to say is a HUGE thank you to Duncan Massey and the rest of the search and rescue team, and that we have already booked ourselves in to go back to Bristol next October – so if this has enticed you, make sure to get your name down for next year’s freshers’ trip early!
Words by Neeraj Shah