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From Dulwich to Belize - a nursing adventure begins

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I wanted something that would enable me to gain some experience in a remote setting with minimal medical supplies, but where there wasn’t such a huge and constant demand for my skills. Trekforce was that stepping stone. It’s a gap-year company that prides itself in providing extreme and remote conservation projects and as well as taking leaders, assistant leaders and trekkers. The are the only gap year company whose projects require full-time medics.

So after a little research and an interview. my Trekforce adventure began… in a Scout Hut in Dulwich.

Leaders, assistant leaders, medics and trekkers were briefed and given a first taster of what we’d got ourselves into. As one of the medics I gave talks to trekkers on malaria tablets, vaccinations, first aid kits and cultural differences.

When I wasn’t giving talks I was attending them, learning about belt kits, basher sites, jungle boots, machetes and, most importantly, Belize!

Belize is a small country, wedged between Guatemala and Mexico on the east coast of Central America. Although it’s only small, Belize is home to stunning beaches, Mayan mountains, huge cave systems and hundreds of acres of beautiful rainforest, which were to be the setting for our project.

A few weeks later I was heading to Berwick on Tweed for a medical briefing with John Dalimore (Trekforce’s medical expert) covering everything from heat stroke and diarrhoea to scorpion and snake bites!

Finally, on 26th January, I was flying to Belize.

The first week was just the leaders, assistance leaders, medics and field base staff, and a lot of organising. Putting together the medical kits was a real eye-opener. From being in a well-stocked hospital to the jungle, where we had to carry everything we needed, really shifts your perspective as to what is really necessary.

After hours of discussion, debates, story-telling and skills swopping we (the medics) finally finished packing our medical kits. We had a grab bag containing: an anaphylaxis kit, analgesia, anti-emetics, fluids, wound dressings, resuscitation kit, eye kit and foot care, weighing in at 5kg, it went everywhere I did. Then we had a fluid bag, medication bag and wound bag that would stay at the base camp.

This led me to thinking about casualty evacuations (casevacs). Trekforce has three different classifications of casevacs:

  • Priority 1: Potential loss of life or permanent disability
  • Priority 2: Cases which need early hospital treatment, but in which there is no immediate risk of death or permanent disability
  • Priority 3:): Cases which are not urgent, but cannot be properly diagnosed or treated with the resources at the project medics’ disposal.

(Operating Guidelines: Rainforests and tropical environments, Trekforce Worldwide)

In Belize, Trekforce has a very good relationship with the British army, so in the event of a P1 or P2 in remote circumstances they are able to airlift casualties in helicopters to a well-equipped private hospital in Belize city.

During our first week we visited both the private hospital and the British Army base and learnt what would happen in the event of a helicopter evacuation and the diameters of a helicopter landing site (25m) and a winch hole (15m) required to make it possible.

In the event of a P3, the army or field base staff would be able to pick up casualties via the closest usable road and take them from there to the hospital. Casualty evacuation sites are a huge priority and throughout the project I made sure I was aware of how far away they were, how well they were marked, the terrain we’d have to cover and the time it took us without a casualty to get there.

The week of preparation flew by and before we knew it the trekkers arrived and we (the medics) were busy giving lectures we’d prepared the week before on shock, heat stroke, fractures, CPR, malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, snake bites, foot care and much, much more.

Once again, when I wasn’t the lecturer I was the student and along side the trekkers I learnt about flora and fauna, setting up basher sites, fire starting, finding water, how to survive if lost, and how to set up camp. Our camps consisted of a cooking and fire area, slops pits, a communal area, basher sites, male and female pee areas and the poo pit.

After three nights in the jungle getting to grips with thing, we were finally ready to leave for our project sites.

Watch this space for more of Josie’s adventure in the Belize jungle

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