Ru­ral GP re­flects on train­ing re­al­ity check


Tears rolled down a doc­tor’s cheeks as he tried to save a young woman’s life.

In a first-world coun­try, this shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. But doc­tors tend­ing to the wounded in Christchurch’s La­timer Square were thrown into third­world like con­di­tions when the Fe­bru­ary 22, 2011 earth­quake hit, Cromwell-based ru­ral doc­tor Dr Pra­gati Gau­tama told a Civil De­fence con­fer­ence in Queen­stown.

The woman was un­con­scious and suf­fer­ing se­vere crush in­juries to her torso. She had been pulled from the CTV build­ing, which claimed 115 lives, and was ly­ing in a make-shift hos­pi­tal tent sur­rounded by a team of doc­tors.

Gau­tama said eight doc­tors around her worked get­ting a line and flu­ids in, but they kept los­ing her heart rate, and had to per­form CPR. Then they got a mes­sage – pa­tients were be­ing flown to Welling­ton, but only those who could sur­vive a flight.

‘‘She has to have an out­put on her own. We didn’t have any form of drugs that could per­haps keep the heart go­ing. It started to dawn on us she wasn’t go­ing to make it. I re­mem­ber look­ing at a pae­di­atric con­sul­tant do­ing the air­way spills and he was lit­er­ally cry­ing. It was the most heart-wrench­ing mo­ment to say ‘enough’, be­cause grow­ing up in a first world coun­try you have got the re­sources and sud­denly we re­alised we didn’t have the re­sources.’’

Sev­eral hours ear­lier, the doc­tors had been on the 14th floor of the Grand Chan­cel­lor do­ing a trauma train­ing course. At 12.51pm it felt like a ‘‘great big gi­ant had walked in, picked up the build­ing and slam dunked it’’. The win­dows blew out, lights were off, dust was ev­ery­where and ev­ery­one was on the floor. They es­caped through ex­ter­nal stairs and then the past three days of train­ing was put into prac­tise as the doc­tors split into their train­ing groups.

Dur­ing the night, they were asked to am­pu­tate a young man’s leg who was stuck in the CTV build­ing. A col­league, who did not have chil­dren, equipped with a hand­saw and drugs, crawled through a tun­nel to him.

‘‘When she came back she said, ‘it’s not medicine, it’s just car­pen­try...not only did we not man­age to get him com­pletely asleep be­cause if we had given any more he might die, but the hand­saw was use­less. I had to go and ask one of those guys with a drill’.’’

He sur­vived.


Dr Pra­gati Gau­tama at a Civil De­fence con­fer­ence in Queen­stown.

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