Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Planning for Medical Emergencies on Swains Island

N6HC at his QTH in California
One thing I have not mentioned before is the need to plan for any potential medical problems on a DX'pedition to a semi-rare location.  On Swains Island there is no local medical facility.  The nearest one is a 23-hour boat ride away - that is, AFTER you get the boat to travel TO Swains Island to pick you up.  Therefore, you are at the VERY least 2 DAYS away from medical help. 

Most DX'peditions these days work hard to find a ham who is also a Doctor to come along as one of the operators.  We are extremely lucky to have Arnie Shatz, N6HC, as our Team Doctor and Operator.  Arnie has operated on several DX'peditions, including K7C-Kure atoll (2005), 3B7C- St. Brandon Island (2007), TX5C- Clipperton Island (2008), K4M-Midway Island(2009), T31A- Kanton atoll, Central Kiribati (2011) and T32C- Christmas Island, Eastern Kiribati (2011).  In addition he is an active contester and very skilled operator. 

W8TN + N6HC in the 2002 ARRL 10-M Contest
As Team Doctor, Arnie has actually "written the book" on what you need to take on a DX'pedition.  His "book" is called Secrets of Dxpedition Doctoring© by Arnold I. Shatz, M.D., FACS, N6HC.  You can read HERE a summary of the medical kit he prepared for the 3B7C operation.  On some of his past DX'peditions he has had to use ALL of the items in his kit but, luckily, has not been faced with any medical conditions for which he was not prepared.

For the trip to Swains Island, Arnie has put together a medical kit similar to that for 3B7C above.  In addition, the group has rented an ACD, Automatic Cardiac Defibrillator, which will also be part of the medical kit. 

When every operator joined the Swains Island team, they were required to supply Dr. Arnie with a questionnaire containing their vital statistics, medical and surgical history, list of all their medications (both prescription and over the counter) plus their allergies to foods and medications.  Each team member was also advised to prepare for motion sickness by obtaining a prescription for their treatment of choice for that malady.  You won't die from sea-sickness but you will be unable to help the team during the first 1 or 2 critical days of setup.  Each team member was also advised to prepare their own medical kit with extra glasses, sun screen, sun glasses, SPF lip balm, bandaids, antibiotic ointments, insect repellant and medications for diarrhea.

Team members were also advised to acquire medical evacuation insurance.  If something severe happens and you need to be evacuated, the cost can easily run into the high tens of thousands of dollars. 

Here at home we seldom prepare in such detail for medical emergencies.  We just figure we can call 911 and get immediate medical help.  That is obviously not the case on a remote DX'pedition.  For this reason, team members and our Team Doctor need to plan for all contingencies and take with us the supplies we may need to keep everyone healthy and safe.

As you can see, big-time DX'peditions to rare and semi-rare locations, just don't "happen" by grabbing some equipment and jumping on a plane.  There are months and even years of planning and preparations that go into pulling off a major DX'pedition.  Without all this pre-operation work (a lot of it by folks who don't even go on the the trip!), a DX'pedition will not be successful.

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