Winch training from the helicopter

So when I signed up to come down to NZ and do retrieval medicine, I wasn’t really even sure how much I’d be up in the helicopters. To provide some context, in Canada, most of our medical helicopter transport systems move patients from one hospital to another or occasionally land near a motor vehicle collision and take patients to a trauma centre. Well below the equator, they are serious about their helicopter rescues! I mean, these guys are not far off being GI Joe!

My first day at the base, two guys from our team were talking about a recent winch rescue where they had to winch the paramedic and physician down to help! Later in the day, one of the guys was recounting when he did an 80ft winch during a rescue in some dense forest.

At this point, I’m thinking, what the $#@& did I sign up for!!! I thought I may take the occasional flight around Auckland snapping pictures like a tourist!. Nope. Not here. During my induction process, I was advised that I’d be getting experience doing winches and water rescue (though in reality most often this is performed by the paramedics). While a little nervous, I was pretty pumped for these opportunities. Though I wasn’t quite sure how my moderate aversion to heights would hold up. And even more importantly, wasn’t quite sure how my wife, Steph, would like to hear that I was going to be winching out of a helicopter (actually I did know the response…) I subsequently decided that Steph would be best served hearing about this after the initial training, thus avoiding any discussions of divorce!

Needless to say after all this, last week I got my winch training sessions done with the team! One of the crewman took me through an awesome on-land practice run and then before long we were up in the air flying over the practice ground. Let me tell you, once that door opens and you’re a few hundred feet above the ground and moving into position, I was a little anxious! We lowered into about 30 feet above the ground, I buckled in and using hand signals to communicate I was successfully lowered down on to the ground below. At this point I felt pretty badass, kind of a mix between GI Joe and MacGyver! It was awesome! After unhooking and the helicopter doing a fly around, it was time to get winched back in. That part was a little more anxiety provoking and as I was approaching the chopper, I had a brief 1 second thought “holy $&*#” and quickly reviewed my life insurance policy. But with the help of the awesome crew on board it all went smoothly!
While I meant to take video with the GoPro cameras mounted on our life jackets, I totally forgot (mostly because I was more concerned with my life!) but I have included a link to a picture of the team using the winch.

My intro to helicopters!

I arrived in Auckland about 3 weeks ago and up until now it’s been far more than I could’ve imagined! As part of my 4th yr of EM residency subspecialty training I’ll be working part-time with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) and also on my Master’s of Medical Education. As result, I’ll have an opportunity to help with some exciting new education and simulation projects at the base! But first off since I’ll also be doing some clinical work with ARHT, I had to do an induction process for helicopter/retrieval medicine. Over the past year, through some innovation by Chris Denny (my supervisor), ARHT has brought physicians onboard the helicopters. So far, this trial has been extremely successful. Before transporting patients, I had to learn the basics of helicopter safety and helicopter medicine. This is a phenomenal learning experience! Over the past 4 years of residency, I’ve become increasingly comfortable taking care of sick people. Well that was turned upside down now that some of patient care happens in the helicopter! Basically its like going back to kindergarten. Everything that I’m used to having, doing, seeing and hearing is gone! It’s an entirely different environment and you simply can’t use the same resources that are available within the emergency department. I’ve had to learn that for most of the transport I’ll be buckled in, barely able to move. The fact I’m 6’3″ doesn’t exactly help, as whoever designed helicopters clearly didn’t anticipate people would be over 5’8″! Once you’re all buckled in and the helicopter is flying, it’s way too loud to speak to the patient. We take verbal communication for granted in the ED but now I have to plan head with hand signals or hoping that the patient can lip read!

my new work environment inside the helicopter

Luckily I’m working with an outstanding group of paramedics who have tons of experience. I rely on them to help me in this new environment. This pic is taken from where I sit within the back of the helicopter.