Saying this however, the incident which took place at a charity cycle run by Claremorris Cycling Club on 17 September took Kieran by surprise; he doesn’t deal with broken necks every day.
Kieran was following the cycle event in an ambulance together with fellow Claremorris branch members Alan Mortimer and Rose Ward, who is Mayo Area Director of Units. Alan was driving the ambulance but when he came upon a person on the road Alan says he “just literally turned the ambulance to block all the traffic off.”
Kieran says he knew “straight away it wasn’t good” and the three volunteers got to work straight away.
Rose took the head and Alan got the trauma bag with oxygen. Then Alan switched with Rose, and took the head, allowing Rose to put a collar on the patient.
“The most important thing is we follow procedure - A, B, C - like any medic does,” says Kieran. “This means making sure the airway is open and that they’re breathing.”
The next step, according to Kieran, is to look for a witness. “You look for one particular person because if you have three or four talking you start getting all sorts of stories, so you look for someone who has actually seen it happening” he explains. Kieran’s queries brought to light that the patient had gone down on his head first after going over the handlebars.
Rose, Kieran and Alan couldn’t transport the patient to hospital as they needed to remain on duty for the rest of the event, so Rose called an ambulance.
The volunteers’ next priority was getting the patient packaged properly – and in the right sequence. “When your head is slightly out of alignment, you move it into a position - if there’s no pain, neurological deficit or any pins and needles,” says Kieran. “He was having pain so we had to keep him in an exact position otherwise you could end up killing him.”
The volunteers got the vacuum mattress but all the while they were also monitoring the patient’s vitals to make sure he was stable.
The next part has to be done “very carefully. “It’s not a log roll,” explains Kieran, “it’s like a semi log roll, where three or four go to one side and you have to be extraordinarily careful moving the body with the head, all at the same time. It’s a job for experienced people, otherwise you could do damage.”
The next task was to move the patient from the scoop and onto the vacuum mattress.
Three people stood on each side of the mattress. Some of these people included cyclists taking part in the event who abandoned the cycle so they could stay with the patient. They offered any assistance they could and were a great help to the Irish Red Cross volunteers. “There’s a special way of calling the lift and then you place the patient onto the vacuum mattress. You’ve to shape the mattress in around him to his shape,” explains Kieran.
“There wasn’t much more we could do then,” explains Kieran, “except to monitor him and monitor his pain scale and his vitals.”
Alan and Kieran explain the necessity for precautions in every situation; “I thought he might have a broken neck, but we weren’t actually sure,” says Alan, “so we always treat it as though it is broken. If you treat it as if it’s broken you can’t do too much wrong.”
The volunteers were in the process of loading the patient into the Irish Red Cross ambulance when the HSE ambulance arrived.
Kieran expands on this; “you might package a couple of hundred people and none of them would have their neck broken, but it’s to catch the one that would have a vertebrae crack. These are the precautions you take for those who you suspect would have a mechanism of injury that could cause a spinal injury; it’s really to catch the one that really is in trouble…because otherwise he’d end up paralysed from the neck down - or dead.”
Alan puts down the successful nature of their careful actions to their training. Claremorris branch engages in two hours of intense training, run by Rose Ward, every Wednesday night.
“With Rose, you come in by 8 o’clock, you’ve ten minutes maximum to get a cup of tea and then you’re talking about and running through different scenarios, so I think the training really did kick in, and paid off. We do run a very tight ship, you’re here to train and that’s what we do,” explains Alan.
Are they nervous being involved in such serious incidents?
“It’s after I go ‘phew’ says Alan.
“It wouldn’t get to me now put it that way,” says Kieran, “but I never underestimate the responsibility I have, that wouldn’t be professional.”
Rose says you “just get on with the job to hand. It’s like tunnel vision, you do what is needed. Afterwards we sit and talk about the event, and no one goes home until we have spoken about how we are feeling and if there is something we can take from this experience, and would like added to the training for the following week.”
The hard work of Rose, Kieran and Alan was gratefully acknowledged by the patient himself in a heartfelt letter he sent after the event - see excerpt below.
“Both the surgeon and the nurses said that I was blessed not to have any paralysis or neurological damage whatsoever. They put this down to luck that the spinal cord wasn’t damaged on impact, but mainly due to the prompt action of you all on the side of the road that morning and the fact that you got me in to a neck brace safely and quickly and stabilised my condition. I can never thank you enough for what you did for me that morning. You literally saved my life! The job you all do, on a voluntary basis, is simply incredible.”