First aid, Antarctic style

January 15, 2009

This won’t hurt, I promise….

Training for a couple of weeks’ stay in a British Antarctic Survey research base on the Antarctic Peninsula, Reuters Television reporter Stuart McDill and I have learnt emergency first aid ranging from how to wield a scalpel to ways to bind up a person’s neck injured in a plane crash.

We’ve also learnt the basics of how to sew up wounds, insert tubes into people who cannot breathe and even get the air out of a punctured lung — jabbing in a giant needle between the ribs just below the collar bone to release the pressure.

Most doctors spend years studying to be allowed to do any of these procedures. But safety is a top priority in Antarctica where things can very easily go wrong — the theory goes it’s better for people to have an inkling than no idea at all.

“We’re not expecting you to be a paramedic or a doctor,” says doctor Jason Coventry (pictured above, giving us a lesson). “Just help out until they can be brought back to base — I will fix them up.”

 Many people spend weeks on two-person expeditions — what Antarctic experts oddly call “in the field” — i.e. camping out on a freezing glacier, ice sheet or on a barren mountain in a tent.

That means everyone has to know a bit of everything — especially first aid.

The course has another side-effect — knowing that your companion might be your surgeon scares you into taking a lot of care.

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