Surgeon’s warning from frontline as crash casualties spike
LEADING Cairns trauma surgeon Dr Andrew Graham has never faced a busier time in the 27 years he’s worked in hospitals with road accidents leading the surge in casualties.
Dr Graham (below) and his crew have been working long hours dealing with the grisly outcomes of crashes, DIY incidents and drunk people “doing silly things”.
“Car crashes are incessant; it’s all the time,” he said.
Cairns police Forensic Crash Unit boss Sgt Scott Ezard said officers were facing a mammoth workload and feared more visitors could mean even more carnage.
A LEADING Cairns trauma surgeon who deals with the grisly aftermath of serious crashes has lifted the lid on the most horrific and hectic few weeks of his career in a desperate bid to curb a surge in road carnage.
Dr Andrew Graham said his orthopaedic ward had faced its busiest patch in the 27 years he has worked in hospitals, spurred on by shocking crash injuries, along with other trauma from DIY incidents and drunk people “doing silly things”.
Tragically, seven people died on Far North roads during September, bringing the annual total to 20 for the region.
And the horrific death rate is surpassed by those seriously injured, with 70 people being admitted to Far North health facilities across the region between June and August — double the number for the same period five years ago.
“Car crashes are incessant; it’s all the time,” Dr Graham said.
“Every week there’ll be at least a couple of days when there’s some sort of horrible car crash. (People) do get desensitised and think that’s going to be someone else.
“No, it’s not, because that could be you.”
He said it changed lives, not just for the patient, but those around them.
“For someone who has been involved in a car crash, their journey through the health system doesn’t stop at the hospital bed,” he said.
“Frequently, there can be several months of rehabilitation ahead for them, and interaction with not just nurses, but also psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.
“This can take a significant amount of resources away from the health service, which could otherwise be channelled elsewhere.”
Highlighting the ridiculous workload his team is facing, Dr Graham said he worked a 96-hour on-call shift during the recent long weekend, operating 10 hours per day for four days, and there were still 40 people left to operate on by the Tuesday.
“Normally in a big, big weekend, we would have 15 to 20 left over, so it’s more than double, and it’s significantly more than the Royal Brisbane and the PA Hospital,” he said.
“This is a full-on trauma hospital.”
He said trauma accounted for two thirds of their workload, meaning anyone awaiting elective surgery was pushed back to make for urgent cases coming through the door.
Injuries vary depending on the type of crash, but even the most hardened medics need to compartmentalise the most horrific wounds.
“With a car accident, you sort of focus on the part, so say there’s a massive, smashed up leg, you put the green drapes around there, it’s just a leg, it’s not a human being anymore,” he said.
“You have to do that for your self-preservation, otherwise you’d go nuts.
“And often we know them … there’s a real connection once you’ve been here for a few years.”
Cairns police Forensic Crash Unit boss Sergeant Scott Ezard said officers were also facing a mammoth workload, with their job board, which lists crash investigations still under way, currently full.
He feared, with improving roads in the Cape York area drawing more tourists to local roads, there could be worse to come.
“There has been no significant difference in the method of crash occurring; it’s ranging from heavy vehicles to quad bikes to single vehicles — there’s just an increase across the board,” he said.
“Logically, if you’ve got more people travelling on our network, then that is only going to be reflected in our trends.”
Cairns Hospital's orthopaedic surgeon in specialty trauma Dr Andrew Graham reflects on the grim aftermath of the horrific spell of serious crashes on Far North roads. Picture: Brendan Radke