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Home arrow Meet Reports arrow Mountain Rescue Incident - Scotland spring meet

Mountain Rescue Incident - Scotland spring meet

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Contributed by Julie Bowler   

Coming to the end of a fantastic day on Blaven on a steep downhill section of mainly loose scree over solid rock the unfortunate man in front of us fell.  Luckily only about 15 feet but over a slight vertical section that probably involved a bit of free fall.  I didn't see him fall but Steve did and he apparently cart-wheeled.  I did see him land and my immediate thought was he won't be getting up quickly.  Steve, Sandy and I made our way to him as did other parties and it was quickly obvious that something serious had happened. He was in a party of four who had caught a flight up from London to Glasgow for the weekend walking in Skye and were then going to fly back the following day.


People quickly let you get on with it if you show confidence (ha ha) leadership or whatever and I was really grateful that one of the other  parties had a member of another Mountain Rescue team in it and that Steve was reminding me of things I may have forgotten. Thank you Steve.  After my initial "why me, why now" (yes I know I wasn't the one lying on the ground in a hugh amount of pain) deep seated knowledge returned to the surface and took over.  He obviously had a broken femur as I could feel where it was.  He obviously had a broken something in his arm/shoulder but I couldn't find where and I was a bit concerned about his pelvis (later found to be fine).

Well a broken femur is a definite MR call as you lose a lot of blood from it and can quickly go into shock so luckily it was an easy decision to make. His pulse was fine and he was talking coherently.  Wonderful stuff adrenaline, but would it last long enough for the helly to reach us?

Another member of party went slightly back up the mountain to direct people away to stop rocks etc falling on us Steve worked out the grid ref. and the MR were called. This being a bank holiday rescues were stacked up and we were third in the queue.  They were in the process of one in Torridan and then had another in Kintail.  We were asked to clear the area of people who didn't need to be there I volunteered to stay as did the MR man.  He then proceeded to open up orange survival bags and pinned them down with rocks as a clear visible signal to the helly. We were also asked to sit on them or wear rucksacs and secure anything that would be blown away including the wearing of hats. This all perhaps took about 10mins but who knows it could have been a lot longer/shorter.  

So we sat waiting. Chat is a bit difficult in the circumstances.  Nick (the patient) was obviously shocked but there is a difference between a lay person's definition of shock (a sudden emotional/physical episode that causes blood to leave the head and causes a faint that is quickly rectified by lying/falling down and is followed by a cup of tea and a biscuit) and a trauma such as substantial fluid in the wrong place (i.e a broken femur that a cup of tea and biscuit isn't going to put right). The point of concern was that you don't give food to someone who will soon be going into theatre for an operation.  However because he was in shock the lay person's idea is that you give them something sweet and several suggested this was a good idea. 

From my point of view he was obviously going to have an operation and therefore should under no circumstances have anything to eat.  I managed to compromise with myself having worked out that he would not get to Inverness for at least 3 hrs and then would a good hour+ before having space in theatre on what was obviously a busy weekend for the MR and Inverness A & E.  So he was allowed a boiled sweet on condition it stayed in his cheek to suck.  His girlfriend was under strict directions not to let him chew or have it in his mouth.  This incidentally also gave Nick something to "do" as it was after he finished the sweet that he started to get quieter. He became increasingly reluctant to communicate including when I had to snap at him to make him talk.  Every cloud has a silver lining and this was it for me - he was obviously going off, pulse was slowly going up, adrenaline was obviously wearing off, he was getting quieter and slower to answer and as one of the "knowledge takes over" situations, I snapped at him "Nick where do you live?"  twice, before he responded.  However once he did respond I wasn't actually interested in the answer.  So I was completely caught on the hop when his girlfriend told me it was correct.  It gave me cause to chuckle later.   So with his condition going downhill I called the MR back to see if they were anywhere near coming for him.  Luckily they had re-prioritised presumably a broken femur took precedence over what ever happened in Kintail.  As I was talking to them the helly could be heard coming and as far as I was concerned it definitely was the cavalry.  Nick also thought he was saved as he as well perked up - which makes it interesting to speculate how your mind can make things worse/better for you.  

Bearing in mind the weather was fantastic, brilliant blue skies with good visibility (see Sandys phots of Blaven) and we had out these bright orange survival bags it took along time for the MR to spot us.  I was still on the phone to them and we were directed to stand with our hands in the air but not to wave them.  We had a very good viewpoint from where we were and it appeared that every other group was waving in which direction we were.  They went over us several times before spotting us. A member of the crew was winched down to us - the noise was phenomenal, the helly was perhaps 30 feet above us but it felt as if it was inside my head. 

I handed over in true seaside Rescue style and he took over - confirming broken leg, something wrong with arm/should but confident pelvis was ok except perhaps for bruising.  It surprised me he was a first aider I had assumed a paramedic or doctor.  Anyway it was decided his leg needed straightening before being able to get him on a stretcher and some entinox was going to be  winched down, with more men to do the pulling of the leg straight.  Time for me to go.  Entinox is good stuff but not that good. It's odd and good how training kicks in.  I've never been in such a situation before, all my patients were safely presented to me in a hospital situation with huge backup and already "made better" in part by the ambulance service, but I dutifully asked permission to go as one does and we both formally shook hands one professional to another. Nick was taken to Inverness and operated on that evening; he was transferred down to London later in the week.  Hopefully he will feel able to return to the hills.

Interesting points arising
At some point I picked up the information that the MR were a bit sniffy about the grid ref not being from a GPS, although Steve's was fine. A notebook and pencil that I have always carried with me on the hills was a useful bit of equipment to have that day and perhaps should be considered as part of a first aid kit. The bootlace that I always carry in case mine breaks also has another purpose that I hope I will never have to use it for - a tourniquet.  That the piece of plastic that I always carry with me in case I am found in a crumpled heap somewhere, that has all contact details, next of kin, medical info. is also useful to pass to someone else so that they are able to contact people if I am busy. And lastly how lucky we are that we have such a good service. 

Forty years ago my father and friend arrived in Glen Brittle to spend time in the Cuillin and on arrival were asked to join the MR to help them find a fallen man, two days later he was found dead with a broken femur.  

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