Expedition and Wilderness Medicine support for Commonwealth Championship for Mountain Running and Ultra Distance.

Expedition and Wilderness Medicine

Expedition and Wilderness Medicine

Expedition & Wilderness Medicine  are to provide the medical cover for the Commonwealth Championship for Mountain Running and Ultra Distance. The events will run over four days in September 2009, and Keswick has been chosen as the venue.

Expedition & Wilderness Medicine Director, Dr Sean Hudson is acting as the Medical Director for the event and overseeing the medical care for the many international and local competitors who will be involved in a number high profile races. In conjunction with Across the Divide they will be managing the medical logistics and communication for the event.

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How do I use a hyperbaric chamber? What are the alternatives?

Hyperbaric Chamber

The concept behind the 3 main portable hyperbaric chambers is they effect a physiological descent by inflating the air impermeable bags above ambient atmospheric pressure. The extent of the descent is dependent on the altitude at which the bag is used and the pressure to which they can be pumped. The patient is placed in the bag lying down (which can be claustrophobic), there is a window for the patient to look through, the fabric of the bag is thick but a conversation can be undertaken. If the patient has difficulty lying flat put the bag on a slope.

Oxygen can be placed inside the bag with the patient. It is worth ensuring the patient has something comfortable to lie on and has a sleeping bag if they get cold. Conversely if its day time the bag needs to be in the shade to avoid ‘boil in a bag’. The bag is zipped up and the bag inflated slowly using a foot pump until the pop-off valve hisses (at around 2 psi). The pressure then has to be maintained by continuing to pump but at a slower rate.

The patient is normally kept in the bag for about an hour, as long as they remain stable in the bag. As pressure increases, the patient needs to be warned to equalise if they are able. It may be worth giving the patient a bag to vomit in if required. Occasionally the zips burst, leading to rapid depressurization and the risk of barotrauma. When reducing the pressure to get the patient out do it slowly, the zip can normally be opened slowly when the side of the bag dimples on pressure.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this piece of equipment? 

Advantages: Lightweight well tested, robust. All the equipment weighs aproximately 7kg. Fast to use, inexpensive in comparison to the others. 

Disadvantages: Still costs £1500 or so, the zip can breakdown and is the weak point. No carrying handles if you wanted to physiologically and geographically descend simultaneously. 

Who makes hyperbaric chambers?
The Gamow bag is the oldest design. The other bags are the PAC and the Certec. Both as good and lighter.  The Certec uses a different pumping system, which can be tiring. 

Gamow Bag.   The Gamow does not have handles but can be carried on a stretcher if absolutely necessary.   You can read more about Gammow Bags and their inventor, Igor Gamow, scientist, classicist, professor, adventurer, at web.mit.edu/invent. Gamow is the son of the famed physicist George Gamow, a co-author of the Big Bang Theory and the first to propose the genetic code. 

Where can I hire a Gamow Bag?
They can be hired from Expedition and Wilderness Medicine see our Media Support Page for more details.

More About CERTEC Bags.   The present CERTEC hyperbaric chamber is an improved version of a hyperbaric chamber that was originally designed in 1989 by a French and German team.

The color of the new CERTEC hyperbaric chamber is not orange but yellow and blue.

Its design is different from all other pressure bags (Gamow, PAC, etc.) since it is comprised of two bags in one:

An outside envelope made of very strong material (to withstand tension) and good friction (for stability on any surface) , an inside envelope made of polyurethane (for airtightness) 

Advantages of this double envelope design are: 
it is rugged and durable
good protection of the airtight inner envelope 

All air valve systems are doubled for security:
two inflation valves
two automatically opening preset valves (220 mB) 

A very large window allows contact with the person in the bag.

Two full length zippers (inside and outside bags) allow easy in- and egress.

The inflation pressure is 220 mB, corresponding to a virtual descent of about 2500 m (depending on the actual altitude).

Total weight of the CERTEC Hyperbaric Chamber is 4,8 kg (carry bag and pump included).

It comes with a very efficient double effect pump (i.e. that pumps during up and downstroke) has a volume displacement of 3,7 liters for each pump cycle.

Only 4 pump cycles per minute are necessary to keep the CO2 in the bag at acceptable levels.

The price of the CERTEC Hyperbaric Chamber is $2300. It can also be rented. 

Advantages: Higher pressures, though it isn’t known how clinically important/useful this is. The bag is lighter than the Gamow. The double-wall system should provide more durability.

Disadvantages: Similar to the Gamow bag, the Certec is expensive, around $2300. I have not seen the newer Certec bag, and my comments are based on the older orange model. I found the (old) pump to be quite difficult to use as it required bending over at the waist (see photo at top of page); it was very fatiguing. As in the Gamow® Bag, fresh air must be regularly pumped into the bag to prevent CO2 buildup.

More about The PAC® (Portable Altitude Chamber)
Dr. Jim Duff, an experienced climber and expedition physician, has developed a nice alternative to the Gamow® and Certec® bags. The PAC (a coated fabric bag) is about the same size and weight as the Gamow, but more of a mummy shape, so there is more room around the head and shoulders. It also develops a 2 psi pressure, equivalent to the Gamow bag. The PAC is much cheaper than the Gamow bag and is probably the most sturdiest of the three hyperbaric bags on the market.

The main design difference, however, is in the radial zipper at the head end. This opens the whole head end and makes access far easier than either the Gamow or Certec bags. This is especially important with large and/or comatose patients (ask anyone who has tried to stuff such a patient into the Gamow bag!). There is no pressure gauge, instead there is a clear pocket on the inside of the window, so you can insert an altimeter and watch it from outside. 

The external, dangling pressure gauge on the Gamow Bag is vulnerable to wear/damage and subsequent leakage, something avoided in the Certec by having the pressure gauge set flush into the bag. I should note that the presence or absence of a gauge does not affect treatment; the pressure gauge or altimeter is merely a reassurance that the equipment is functional, something that is easy to ascertain in straightforward ways, ie, the bag inflates and the pop-off pressure control valves hiss. 

Note that with the PAC the maximum pressure is limited by the pop-off valves to 2 psi, but you can adjust the valves to a lower pressure to accomodate patients who have trouble clearing their ears. Instructions for using the PAC are printed right on the side of the bag, as is a table showing the equivalent descent at various altitudes, a nice touch. This bag has recently been used in the HRA Pheriche clinic and seems to be durable.

Advantages: The shorter zipper and simplicity of design has resulted in a bag that is far cheaper than the other available alternatives: US$1,200 including delivery almost anywhere in the world. The end-opening design is a major advance in terms of ease of getting patients in and out

Disadvantages: No significant disadvantages.

Web Resources
High Altitude Medicine Guide
Gamov’s entry in Wikipedia
Climbing High

Interview with Igor Gamow
PAC Technology

About the author
Dr. Sean Hudson is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and on the expeditionary advisory board for Summit. Sean has been involved in a wide array of expeditions over the last 18 years. During this time he has trekked across the Darien Gap, The Thar Desert, worked as a trekking guide and Chief Medic for Raleigh International in Namibia and Zimbabwe, a trauma medic in Columbia and ski field doctor in New Zealand. Since 1998 he has worked for Across the Divide Expeditions as medic and expedition medicine advisor, providing medical cover on expeditions in 21 different countries. Dogsledding to Desert trekking in Namibia. In 2002, he and his wife, expedition medic Dr. Caroline Knox, helped to established Expedition and Wilderness Medicine, which seeks to provide comprehensive training for medical professionals working as expedition medical officers in a variety extreme and remote environments.

A participant’s write up – Polar Medicine Training Course February 2008

Polar Medicine Training Course | Norway

The setting for this year’s polar medicine training course was Alta, a small settlement, 72 degrees north and well within the arctic circle. A place with a deserted high street where you would be lucky to see one other passer by every 15 minutes, easily explained by a temperature at least ten degrees below freezing and a good foot of snow on the ground.

Base camp was a 40 km drive along icy roads to a picturesque mountain lodge by the name of Ongajoksetra. At the higher altitude the temperature was that much lower and if a wind was blowing, temperatures as low as minus fifty could be achieved. We were introduced to the Scandinavian team who would teach us methods of navigation across such tough terrain in harsh conditions and also to the Expedition Medicine team who would teach us polar medicine in a series of lectures and practical sessions both in the classroom and in the field. One more group I must not forget to mention is the team of fifty sled dogs who would provide another mode of transport across the snow.

Dr Claire Roche, Polar MedicineMy first day involved skidooing up a mountain demonstrating the importance of protective clothing, navigation aids and preparation for travel in severe blizzards with visibility of approximately two metres, sudden drops in temperature and rapid weather changes. I realised that without our trustworthy guide, Espen Ottem, we could become hopelessly lost in such conditions where you would be unable to survive more than a couple of hours at most. Our dog sledding guide, Pre-Thore was the perfect example of this as he told us of the time where inadequate preparation resulted in frostbite, blackening of his fingertips but fortunately no amputation. This story made me somewhat paranoid about the daily pain and numbness in my hands and feet when outside in the cold for prolonged periods. A “buddy system” was paramount to preventing frostnip. Simply by having that small exposed area of skin, pointed out to you to cover up

Dr Leslie Thomson, a consultant anaesthetist who had first – hand experience of polar medicine after spending several years in Antarctica taking part in the British Antarctic Survey gave an excellent lecture on hypothermia, bringing home how hypothermia is not just a condition seen near the poles but also in the Saturday night party goer who collapses under the stars, the homeless and the elderly. We were taught how to treat by various re-warming methods and when to commence C.P.R in the hypothermic patient sending home the message of not pronouncing death until warm and dead in certain individuals. This information was demonstrated by the story of Dr Anna Bagenholm , a 29 year old doctor who fell into icy water whilst skiing in Northern Sweden, immersed for approximately an hour, her body temperature was 13.7 degrees centigrade. C.P.R continued for three and a half hours alongside re-warming techniques such as bypass, bladder / stomach / peritoneal lavage and warm intravenous fluids. She survived to become the person with the lowest body temperature ever to survive.

Expedition and Wilderness Medicine obviously feel that first- hand experience is the best way of teaching and as a result each member of the group had to undergo cold water immersion. Prior to undertaking this challenge we were kindly taught about the cardiac arrhythmias that can be induced by the shock of entering the water, the short term cold water gasp reflex increasing the chance of aspiration and swimmers failure! One by one we stepped up to an ice hole in our thermal underwear and in the more daring members of the group a little less! to swim across icy water. I can confidently say that was the coldest I had ever been. As if several knives had been plunged into my body, breath taking and inducing chest pain, I swam across water of ridiculously low temperature to attempt getting out of the hole using my ski poles

Of our nights spent in the field we were taught how to construct snow holes. Five hours later our own little home with two double beds, stove, cupboards and shelves for our candles was constructed. It was as comfortable as it could be on a mountain side with winds blowing outside dropping the temperature to twenty below. I was amazed that the snow hole was so warm at five degrees compared to the outside however a slight air of nervousness was in the back of my mind as my avalanche detector slowly flashed in the corner and a rope attached to a spade inside connected our holes to other holes in case of us having to be dug out. The course perfectly demonstrated how to survive in such conditions

In summary the course prepared 25 everyday doctors to be able to traverse the polar landscape, recognise and competently treat local cold injury and hypothermia as well as to be safe expedition medics capable of caring for their groups and evacuating when required. To spend a week in such a location gave me the upmost respect for those who live in these regions and cross the landscape as part of everyday life, as well as a great respect for the land. In a day and age of global warming and melting of the polar ice caps it becomes paramount to look after our environment, to take only photographs and to leave only footprints.

Dr Claire Roche, Clinical Fellow in Emergency Medicine Countess of Chester Hospital.  See the BMJ article.

The next expedition medicine course will be in Desert Medicine Course which will be held in Namibia, August 17th -23rd 2008.

To see the full range of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Training Courses see here.

Desert Medicine Training Course | Namibia

Dr Andy McClea | doc behind the camera

Andy McAlea was the man behind the camera for this piece showing the Air Ambulance assisting on the Expedition and Wilderness Medicine training course in the Lake District.

Luanne Freer joins the Expedition Medicine team.

We where privileged at EML to have the Everest Base Camp MD Luanne Freer join our lecture team for the Lake District Expedition Medicine courses during her recent visit to the UK

She has a great website for those of you interested in altitude medicine and the video below illustrates the difficulties of operating at this height

Visit her Everest MD website here

The BBC trailor for the documentary about her.

Mountain Medicine course in Nepal.