Jungle ER

Jonny Keeling
15 February 2008

Jonny Keeling practising first aid on a mannequin

Imagine you're filming in a remote location: the deep jungle, the high Arctic or in a vast, open desert...somewhere far from doctors, far from hospitals and a world away from machines that go 'ping'. Someone on the crew has a serious accident. What would you do?

That's a question I often ask myself during filming trips. So this week I spent two days on a remote location first aid course run by ex-special forces medics in Hereford. One of the instructors was the paramedic featured looking after Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in the Long Way Down series.

He taught us how to set up a drip, when to set up a drip - and more importantly - when not to. We learned how to rescue someone from deep water with suspected spinal injuries and we stemmed life-threatening arterial blood loss with some magic powder made from shrimp shells. We splinted fractured limbs, treated heat stroke and hypothermia and discovered which way to load a casualty in a helicopter if they have head injuries.

The course ended with a practical exercise. Two mannequins posing as cameramen were lost in the woods. Eight of us formed a search party. We found our mannequins suspended halfway down a cliff on ropes, their bodies broken. Faced with neck injuries, head injuries, fractures and spurting blood, we momentarily forgot everything we'd learned. We all panicked and ran around shouting uselessly. Vital seconds ticked away and the dummies seemed to become even more lifeless.

Finally, we pulled ourselves together and managed to rescue and treat the casualties. In our medical fervour we used every bandage in the first aid kit. The dummies became mummies. It then took all the strength of four stretcher bearers to carry each casualty to an imaginary helicopter-landing zone a few hundred metres from the incident. On those poor manhandled dummies we made many mistakes, but we learned so much.

What was the single most important thing I learned? Even with some medical knowledge, a major accident in a remote location is still such an overwhelming prospect that I must do everything possible to prevent it from ever happening in the first place.

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