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Trauma Victims In South Africa: Triaging The Dead

I noticed my use of the phrase ‘call it’ a few times recently. It is something I saw on American TV and not at all something that is common in my neck of the woods. The sort of scene that you would get in gray’s when the junior doctor is pumping the chest shouting ‘I will not let you die, dammit!’ while the senior doctors stand one side and instruct him to ‘call it!’ is pretty foreign to our way of doing things. I even got ragged a bit for using the phrase at all. I thought I’d relate a story from days gone by that illustrates this point.

It was the time of the taxi wars. Now taxis in our country are nothing like you might be thinking. They are fleets of mini-buses, quite often owned by people of questionable legal character. Occasionally rival groups try to take each other out (I mentioned this before here). But roughly at the turn of the millennium there was outright war. When the war came to Pretoria we saw quite a few of the victims, but neurosurgery got the most. A friend of mine was rotating through neurosurgery and this story came from him.

There had been a contact between two different taxi organisations. The casualties were streaming in. The neurosurgeon and my friend, his trusty lackey, were overworked and I think it had affected their sense of humour. So while they were getting another gunshot head ready for surgery and heard another four were en route, they were not amused. When the ambulances arrived the neurosurgeon said he wanted to go out and triage them in the ambulances before they were unloaded. And this is what they did.

The neurosurgeon looked at each patient in turn. The first three he told them to send into casualties for his attention. But the fourth…he took one look at the fourth and exclaimed;

“Vat hom weg! hierdie een is gefok!*”

My colleague laughed the next day when the newspapers reported: “On arrival at the hospital, one taxi driver was declared dead by the neurosurgeon on duty.” Fortunately they did not quote him verbatim.

*take him away! this one is f#@ked!

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

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