Doctors prepare for every eventuality

2012-05-30 00:00

FOR the past 33 years, Jeremy Boulter has seen what happens beyond the Comrades Marathon finish line.

He has been one of the doctors on duty, taking care of runners who have gone beyond their capabilities. For the past 18 years, he has been the Comrades Marathon Association’s medical director, and has seen major changes through the years.

“In 1979, the medical tent at the finish was the size of a lounge in an ordinary-sized house. This year we have 110 beds, with 65 doctors, 25 nurses and some interns on duty,” said Boulter.

“The tent alone is 750 square metres, and with the St John Ambulance tent, an assessment area and an ICU facility there is close to 1 000 square metres under canvas for medical purposes. There are also eight physio and eight first-aid stations along the marathon route on race day.”

Every patient in the tent is assigned a doctor treatment and Boulter and his crew start work at 7 am on the big day.

“I receive continuous updates from the course throughout the day, having in the past dealt with runners having a heart attack at the start of the race. The last runner only leaves the tent between 7.30 pm and 8 pm; long after the race has finished,” he said.

“Eighty to 85% of the field finish after 3 pm. We start getting busy from 4.30 pm and from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm it is hectic.

On average, we have about 300 patients in a field of 14 500 athletes which, when considered, is not too bad. Most runners suffer from dehydration but they all get examined, have a blood test, are made warm and enjoy a lie down to recover,” he said.

The six deaths in the history of Comrades could be considered six too many, but there is always an element of risk and the unknown occurring on the day.

“When it’s seen how basic the race was in the early years and the training methods compared to today, it’s safe to say the race has a proud medical record and history. These days, nothing is left to chance,” said Boulter.

“Netcare ambulances patrol the route, ready to respond and apply first aid, plus there is a laboratory service sponsored by Ampath. We want all runners to keep Comrades alive, regardless of how they feel at the finish.”

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