A moment can change your life for ever
South Africans must take responsibility for their own wellbeing
Johannesburg, Thursday, 16 October 2010 It can take just a moment of negligence or inattentiveness for an individual to create a traumatic life-altering situation such as a motor vehicle accident or a fire in which people are injured or even killed. Being aware of possible dangerous situations and being prepared for them, on the other hand, can save lives.
This was the message that Netcare 911, South Africa’s largest private emergency medical service, wanted to emphasise this World Trauma Day, which is being celebrated on 17 October. According to Netcare 911 Operations Director, Peter Feurstein, so many cases of trauma could be avoided if more South Africans took responsibility for their own health and safety.
Feurstein says that people suffer trauma in a variety of ways in South Africa including through being involved in a motor vehicle accident, being shot, being burnt or simply suffering a fall. Netcare 911 works in partnership with various organisations to inform people about trauma and how to avoid it or at least deal with it more effectively.
“There are so many ways in which you can take better care of yourself and your children,” he continues. “For example be attentive and wear your seatbelt when you drive, do not drink and drive, ensure that the electrics of your home are sound, do not leave fires unattended and make sure that your children are not left unattended. While these may all sound rather obvious, many people fail to take the necessary care of themselves with tragic consequences. Such pre-emptive actions can help ensure that you and your family do not have to deal with the traumatic situations that we at Netcare 911 respond to on a daily basis.”
Dr Anchen Laubscher, Netcare 911 Medical Director, suggests that in addition to finding ways to avoid injury, it is also important to always be prepared for an emergency situation in case one does occur.
She notes that speed is always of the essence in trauma cases. You should also carry the contact numbers of a loved one in your wallet and wear a bracelet if you have any medical conditions. These will speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself.
Of extreme importance is that you remember the emergency number 082 911 in case you need it. Dr Laubscher says that it is astonishing how many people don’t even know a single emergency number when they find themselves in trouble.
Once you have reached the dispatcher at the emergency call centre be ready to provide him or her with the following information:
- Who? The dispatcher will ask for your name and phone numbers in case the authorities need to get more information from you later, or if the line is dropped.
- What? Tell the dispatcher as much as you can about the emergency, for example whether there is a fire, traffic hazard, medical emergency, etc.
- Where? Let the dispatcher know exactly where the emergency is taking place. Tell them what city and road you are in and give them landmarks that could help them to locate you easily.
Make sure you stay on the line until the dispatcher has obtained all the necessary information from you.
Dr Laubscher says that the quicker the emergency services can get to an injured person and get them to a hospital, the better their chances of survival. In a recent case in Johannesburg a man who had received a severe life threatening chest injury in a motor vehicle accident was saved due to the prompt action of Netcare 911
The accident victim went into cardiac arrest after having been picked up by a Netcare 911 helicopter. The HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) was fully ICU equipped and the team highly experienced, and they were able to resuscitate the man. The HEMS was able to provide the best available emergency care to keep the patient alive in order to get him to the most appropriate hospital in the shortest possible period of time. Dr Laubscher explains that “the most appropriate hospital” means the closest hospital appropriately equipped to provide immediate optimal care.
“It has been clearly documented that CPR performed on accident victims in cardiac arrest following blunt chest trauma seldom have good outcomes,” continues Dr Laubscher. “The fact that the patient was resuscitated and has since made a complete recovery is testimony to the value of a well equipped and staffed HEMS service.”
“International research has demonstrated that decreasing the transfer time from accident to operating theatre has a positive effect on patient outcome. We at Netcare 911 therefore always emphasise the importance of speed in getting to the incident site and then in getting the patient to the most appropriate hospital.”
She adds that Netcare 911 works closely with specialists and hospitals who add immense value from a clinical perspective. Netcare 911 paramedics know which hospitals are regarded as centres of excellence for specific types of emergencies. For example, the Netcare Milpark, Charlotte Maxeke General Hospital and the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals are renowned for their ability to handle severe burns and trauma cases. Johannesburg’s Netcare Garden City Hospital, on the other hand, has a closed paediatric intensive care unit and a highly skilled paediatric intensivist who is showing excellent outcomes in child drowning cases in particular.
First aid can also be a lifesaver and everyone should learn it, advises Dr Laubscher. As Shaleen Ramduth Principal of the Netcare School of Emergency and Critical Care once sagely pointed out: “You will never forget the first time you saved a life or the first time you didn’t.” Dr Laubscher suggests that there are a number of good first aid courses available and people should take advantage of this.
One of the most important aspects of first aid is CPR. Dr Laubscher suggests that if people don’t want to learn first aid they should at least make sure they learn CPR or “mouth-to-mouth” as it is popularly known. “Even if it is administered by an amateur, CPR can make the difference between a patient surviving or not”, she notes. There is a different technique that is used on children and all parents should learn it. There has also been a recent revision in CPR technique and it is important that even current first aiders be re-trained.
Dr Laubscher says that you should first check a trauma victim for breathing. “If the person is not breathing, administer two slow rescue breaths ensuring that the victim’s chest just rises adequately. If the victim shows no response to the two rescue breaths and no pulse is felt start chest compressions. One should keep doing CPR on a trauma victim who has stopped breathing until someone who is trained in advanced life support arrives on the scene.”
“Prevention is better than cure when it comes to trauma,” notes Feurstein. “If we can make people aware of some of the dangers that their world poses to them and their families, we can reduce the high number of trauma cases that are currently being experienced in South Africa. We all need to work together to start tackling the curse that is trauma.”