As I looked around it was surreal. Almost like I’d stumbled across a scene from a TV medical drama. From what I was seeing it wasn’t a far stretch to think that Gregory House, Doogie Howser and Hawkeye Pierce had combined to help yet another hapless Joe that just happened to found in the nick of time. The cast and crew had long gone but the clean-up had yet to begin.
Small plastic tubes, defib cases, open medial packages, hoses, breathing masks, boxes of tape, needle covers and most notable…drawings, schedules, a tool bag and a hard hat fitted with a head lamp still rocking in the corner. I was alone and it was quite.. deafly quiet. I could hear a faint commotion down the hall but for that couple of seconds; the world stood still.
As the words of the Doctor “can you bring all this equipment with you” rang through me, I snapped back into action and quickly started to gather all the medical gear that littered the floor. Arms full, tubes dragging behind me I walked through the infirmary doors and saw a swarm of medical experts buzzing around his bed. As I ducked and weaved through them, placing pay load on the bench, I saw another group of visibly shaken and exhausted men walking out the other exit door.
As I followed them, I looked around thinking… this is no TV drama; I’m at work and this is actually happening!!
Well… it was a pretty standard fly in day. It was New Year’s Eve and I was keen to get back to site after the break and an amazing few weeks off with some very special people. Christmas was great and life was pretty damn good. To top it off I was in the heli port with my night shift leading hand hearing all about his break, his son’s school trip and generally a great chat to start the swing.
The flight was the standard couple of hours and no real surprises when back at work for the start of the New Year. I was sitting at my desk around half an hour before shift change. My Night Shift leading hand walked around the corner; the usual spring in his lumbering step and wily grin on his face.
He is an imposing figure…has at least in inch on me, solid yet slender in build. At around 55 years of age he is also in the type of shape I’ll only hope to be in when I hit that mark. I’d gotten to know him quite well over the last 5 months or so and had nothing but admiration and respect for his past achievements through work and business, his seemingly incredible relationship with family and the integrity and professionalism with which he conducted himself in his role.
As he threw a packet of snakes on my desk, commenting that that should stop my winging about not getting any…I smiled as he continued to shake hands with others in the team and wishing all a Merry Christmas.
He sat on a small stool in front of my desk and as we continued to chat about nothing in particular, his eyes rolled and in true form I thought he was reacting to our conversation…. But as he continued to fall and then disappeared out of my sight; followed by the crash of his body hitting the floor, I knew there was something seriously wrong.
From that instant for the next 5 mins I was on autopilot. The years of trade based, work required CPR training and first aid kicked in. The voices of all those trainers echoed in my ears and for the next few minutes it seemed like it was just him and me in that room.
When I heard the familiar voice of another team member telling me he was going to raise the medic… I knew help was coming but had no idea when…
Recovery position, airway check, pulse check…it all came to me like clockwork. It was nothing like the training drills…he weighed far more than any mannequin and the stiffness of his limbs was a surprise but it was almost like I expected it.
I knew why his face was turning red, then blue. I knew why his tongue was limp. I knew how to keep him from rolling and I knew what to do when I needed him to roll. I knew that if I got his head back for one last gasp of air it would make the CPR more effective. I even knew that when I felt his ribs crack that this was the depth I needed to be so I had to keep going.
But what I do consciously remember the most while I was kneeling over him in that moment…seemingly watching the life flow out of him was that, until expert help arrived, I was the only chance he had to see his family again.
I didn’t know this because I’m an intelligent guy, not because it’s general knowledge and not because someone was whispering in my ear. I knew it because I was trained to know it. Because of my trade and industry background, I’d been unwittingly preparing for this moment for 20 + years.
Whether I was climbing poles in the outback, wiring substations in the big smoke, working ski lifts, fixing recording studios, managing an energy business or building gas plants…all of these industries were aware of the risks involved and diligently / proactively invested their resources in me for this exact workplace situation.
$50,000 + I estimate has been spent on my CPR training alone since I was 17 and started my apprenticeship. All those seemingly tedious hours on resus dummies, rolling co-workers into the recovery positions, drinking coffee to mask the taste of disinfectant and battling the plastic bags all culminated in me watching my colleague be medivac’d to hospital after 30 mins of CPR and defib, still alive.
Since this night, a lot of people, including his doctors have said that he was lucky that I was there. I’d argue this is not specifically me the person, but me the product of an industry at large that is dedicated to the training of its staff and ensuring the maintenance of their competencies.
Another popular comment, that is backed up by medical staff is that he is lucky it happened at work where it did. To this I’d agree that if it was to happen anywhere, here is one of the better places but my colleague’s recovery was not due to luck.
Again it is the outcome of a company within an industry dedicated to ensuring their workers have the best possible chance of survival in this, and similar situations. Highly training Emergency Response Teams, site Medics, Doctors, on call medivac services and direct access to the best medical facilities. If one gap appeared in this chain of events, the outcome for my friend would have been a very different and tragic one.
The fact that he is now discharged from hospital proves the system DOES work, the training IS effective and companies ARE dedicated to their employees. I’ve had a lot of folks say that it isn’t the ideal start to the New Year. In the context of what happened, not for my leading hand but there are many positives for sure.
The biggest, our man is very much alive and well on his back to life pre that fateful evening. The other big one for me is that hundreds of employees at this work place, associated workplaces and their friends and family back home have been given even more confidence that if they ever get a call to say their loved one is in distress at a workplace far from home…that they are in good hands.
Until the next instalment…Keep safe and #stayconnected