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Snippets from a First Aider Print E-mail
Written by Kristien Massie   
Saturday, 30 May 2009 13:12

The move to Central Africa proved to be very different from the life I had previously led. In retrospect, it gave me the opportunity to do all sorts of things that I would not normally have achieved had I remained elsewhere.

After 3 house moves we found ourselves living in a cul de sac – St Peters Close, Parklands, which I thought was great. No speeding traffic – therefore no worries if kids, dogs or cats climbed over our gate. I hadn’t counted my 2 years old, whose energy was boundless and who had no fear whatsoever of performing death defying feats! Climbing onto our roof being one but it was his particularly nerve wracking act one afternoon which became the deciding the course of action. What would we have done had my son fallen from the dizzy heights of the ‘monkey puzzle’ tree where, precariously balanced on the highest branch, he shouted “Look at me! I am king of the castle!” Probably not a lot since I reckoned he would not have survived such fall.

There was also the outside chance that a less hazardous adventure would initially enable me to do the right thing in the event of an injury. Having recounted this episode to my friend Shirley, who lived a couple of houses away, she suggested first aid classes. She too had small children who, when you turned your back but for a second, got up to all sorts of tricks.

Some time later, imagine us now, fully trained – theory buzzing through our heads, having practised on the other suckers in the class and Annie (the universal name for the resuscitation dummy) – but not the REAL things, live human beings.

We therefore attended anything we could for practical experience, gymkhanas, horse races, motor car and motor cycle events, rugby matches, the agricultural show and so on. The time allocated to these events was at weekends and attendances took on the flair of family outings because we were able to take our children with us. Not, I hasten to add, as unwilling spectators to our first aid efforts! There were lots other children to play with safely away from any of the action.

We certainly became experienced in treating various cuts, abrasions, sprains, bruises, the odd arm or leg fracture and a whole host of minor complaints. Having mastered the art of applying ‘butterfly’ plasters to lacerations, one was chuffed when medical staff at the hospital considered stitching unnecessary and admired our work!

The very mention of transporting emergency cases successfully by ambulance, still fills me with amazement when one considers the hazards we faced from the driving public. Apart from those who wouldn’t give way at all, there were those lunatics who decided to race us, hell bent on becoming the next stretcher case and bringing with them the occupants of other cars, who made brave attempts to evade them!

In time, the departure of many of our members (nearly all our trained personnel were expatriates on contract) resulted in suddenly finding ourselves heading the whole unit. This meant taking responsibility for the 2 ambulances, a fully equipped Landrover with radio facilities for contact with the outside world, the hired hall, working out rosters for attendance at events, fund raising and training of future VAD’s. At this stage we had already attained Instructor status so the matter of training others was solved.

As word spread, the police and fire brigade contacted us to train their personnel in first aid. These two bodies together with the local hospital authorities requested we consider providing an emergency service to attend, in the main, road traffic accidents. The one hospital’s fleet of ambulances was severely depleted and the graveyard of mechanical carcases could be seen from the hospital compound. For patients looking out of the windows, this sight did not exactly imbibe hope for the future!

And thus commenced a memorable 7 years of attending RTA’s as they were then known in the ‘trade’, when the fire brigade was called out, night or day (my bosses were very understanding!), we went too.

All was quiet on the central front for a while apart from the usual first aid duties as we nervously awaited our first emergency call. What would it be? How would we react? We hoped that we would be able to competently handle whatever came our way …

Then it came. Well timed at two o’clock in the morning. With hearts racing we hastily dressed and sped off in the ambulance, eventually red light flashing and only using the ‘dee-dah’ when necessary. It was surprising just how many vehicles were about at this time of night, even in the middle of Africa.

We arrived at the scene on the Ndola Road close to the overhead rail bridge and on surveying the scene, realised there was nothing we could do. I will spare you the horror we saw suffice to say a Mini, carrying 8 (this is no typo) passengers and a mattress wedged down the middle between front and back seats, had run into the back of a ‘bakkie’ (small truck). The Mini had punctured the bakkie’s petrol tank which became engulfed in flames from a spark. The driver and one front seat passenger escaped and had run away. For the rest of the passengers, there was no running away into the night …

The appalling sight remains with me still and as you may imagine, our eating habits changed dramatically for a considerable period of time.

Shortly after this incident, Shirley and I were returning home from attending a rugby match to drop off one of our African counterparts. Whilst driving on a main road in one of the townships, an accident occurred just yards in front of us. We were approaching a stop sign and while the road we were on was level, the road traversing was second only to a ski slope. Two cars, one speeding down the hill and the other coming toward us, smacked into each other. The car with the right of way then somersaulted three times in the air. It was like watching a movie in slow motion. Believe it or not, both drivers miraculously escaped unscathed. The innocent driver was so incensed he returned to his wreck next to be seen wielding an axe hell bent in his approach of the other driver. Our first aider leapt from the ambulance, gave chase and with great strength managed to wrest the axe from the man before we had real problems on our hands – a decapitated or otherwise, a bits ‘n pieces body! The axe became his reward for bravery.

Junctions seemed to be our magnet – on approaching yet another close to the fire station one day, an accident again occurred right in front of our eyes. We stopped across from this car adjacent the central reservation. We could see the driver’s arm dangling outside the window, in fact, hanging by a thread. Worse was to follow, as in a trice excited onlookers who took it upon themselves to ‘help’, took hold of his arm to ‘pull him from the vehicle’ … you’ve guessed the rest. We did our best but the blood loss he sustained from the near severed arm and other injuries would probably have cost him his life anyway although this foolish act only made matters worse.

I cite that incident because it will let you have an idea of the naivety of passers by and folk who often appeared from nowhere, whose intentions were basically good but of a hindrance to the casualty and of course, us.

We subsequently decided to obtain our nursing qualifications and started a 3 year training course whilst continuing with the first aid duties – we must have had boundless energy! Lectures were in the evenings and our practical sessions were undertaken in Kitwe Central Hospital at weekends in 4 hour shifts. We had to go through the whole gambit from medical to surgical and childbirth. It was fascinating to say the least and we experienced so much – probably more than we would ever have hoped for. One of the horrific observations being the advanced stages of venereal disease …

The most frequent request for assistance came from expectant mothers who invariably left things to the last minute. Not being able to get them to hospital in time, we were delivering babies all over the place, even in ambulances bounding around on rough terrain. One soon learns to appreciate a decent tarred road!

In their gratitude mothers often named their minutes old offspring after the first aider attending or as in one case, a female baby was bestowed the name of our male driver.

We were asked one day to go to the scene of a train accident resulting from an enormous explosion. The train carrying explosives used in the copper mines also ‘carried’ passengers in the adjacent carriage. The explosion and derailment created the biggest crater and whilst there was no one to treat, we spent the rest of the day, masked and gloved, assisting in the clearing up, i.e. finding body parts …

I still find it incredible that after such an event a person’s given appearance in these circumstances, becomes akin to the oily waste cloths used by car mechanics. It was nevertheless an interesting exercise.

After 7 years of this and Lioness Club charity work, everything came to a halt with farm life the next challenge. More exciting stuff was to happen despite actual farming, the coming across of wildlife including crocodiles, hippo and … snakes and spiders alive! I’m excluding our cattle, pigs, goats, chickens and ducks … they were a lot different!