A station prepares for unexpected illness and possible surgery

What happens if the nearest hospital is thousands of kilometres away ?

On our Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations the teams rely on a well-trained doctor for their general health requirements, but what if there was a dire emergency that required surgery?

There is a functional and up-to-date operating theatre on each station, however, the doctor can’t do all the tasks required during an operation on his own. So who will assist them?

In come the Lay Surgical Assistants (LSAs). The LSAs are expeditioners who have volunteered to assist the doctor if and when there is a need to perform surgical or other complex procedures requiring extra help to complete safely.

Before heading south, these volunteer expeditioners usually complete a two-week intensive training course at the Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH), which prepares them to assist the doctor during surgery. However, like many things altered by the Covid-19 pandemic, only one of the LSAs was able to undertake the training prior to departure. The remaining members of the team had to complete their training en-route to Macca.

Each day the team would attend the medical facility on RSV Nuyina to undertake training. For two of them training covered how to monitor the anaesthetic machine (under the direction of the doctor), assist with maintaining an open airway, and monitor the vital signs of the patient. For another two, training was given in being a surgical assistant and scrub scout, to aid with the care and provision of the surgical instruments and other requirements during the surgery.

Since arriving at Macca the team have been receiving ongoing training in the actual station medical facility. This allows them to hone their skills in preparation to assist during surgery, a time we hope will never eventuate.

Our team of LSAs is composed of a carpenter, store person, comms techs, and wildlife ranger. While the role of the LSA is very different to their chosen career role, all have taken on the LSA training with enthusiasm to learn a new skill and assist their community.

Story by Craig I.