I was thrilled to be chosen as one of the two military doctors to cover a three-week adventurous training expedition to remote North East Uganda. As one of 14 RAF and Army personnel our aim was to climb Mt Elgon (4251m) and to undertake a building project in conjunction with the charity “Friends of Kumi Hospital”.
I was tasked as expedition Medical Officer for the 14 personnel along with 1 other doctor. Much to my amusement, with the Joint Service Mountain Leader dropping out last minute, I also asked to act as mountain leader for the two groups. I had completed the UK Diploma in Mountain Medicine but I was by no means an experienced mountain leader.
With about a month to go before the expedition I had a delivery to work of a trauma module and a box of "essential" drugs. The bag was completely not fit for purpose and I could barely lift the thing! The drugs included stuff like syntometrine (for bleeding after birth) and amiodarone (a drug for the heart)! Either the military weren’t telling me something or I was being expected to deliver one of the expedition member’s baby! I needed specialist pre-hospital expedition kit.
A quick email to Malcolm at Prometheus led to an invitation to their Hereford HQ. They kindly offered a bed for the night and even prepared soup and a roll for my late night arrival. Malcolm, an ex-Army doctor with immense pre-hospital and expedition experience, offered me lots of sage advice. I settled on buying the 'Tactical Medical Bergan', 'Team 8 stretcher', and pulse oximeter. The theory behind taking a stretcher was that attempting a carry off Mt Elgon would require enormous resources and having a compact (no-larger than a rollmat) stretcher would facilitate an evacuation. I liked the bergan as it was black, therefore innocuous; slimline, water resistant and the straps folded away for safety during plane travel. The interior pockets were cleverly designed with windows and waterproof zips.
I was allocated enough money to pay for one porter to carry the medical kit on the mountain. The maximum weight they would carry was 15kg, this therefore made me reduce, significantly, available medical kit. The conundrum was that having to provide immediate medical care AND primary care to the expedition members. After a whole day of packing I eventually settled on the kit with some assistance from Nomad pharmacy in London for drugs.
Out on the mountain the kit performed well. The only downside was the Tac Med Bergan not being 100% waterproof. This was sorted with a waterproof rucksack cover. Perhaps future designs could have this built in? Generally the porters found the bag comfortable.
Fortunately the stretcher wasn’t needed on the expedition. It did however fasten nicely onto the bergan using the 'molle' method. The pulse oximeter worked well- I used it several times to highlight to expedition members their reduced blood oxygen levels. I had to sedate an expedition member who was having difficulty sleeping and having the ability to monitor his saturations whilst sleeping was extremely useful.
I look forward to using further Prometheus Medical kit on the Maxadventure “London to Cape Town” world driving challenge that I am covering in January 2010. See www.maxadventure.co.uk for details.
Flt Lt Andy Grieve