Sur­geon’s warn­ing from front­line as crash ca­su­al­ties spike

The Weekend Post - - Front Page - GRACE MA­SON

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

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