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’.’’
Dr Pragati Gautama at a Civil Defence conference in Queenstown.