How Lancaster doctor is overcoming the language barrier at Rio Olympics

The medical team in the Olympic Stadium, Rio.
The medical team in the Olympic Stadium, Rio.
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Former Royal Lancaster Infirmary consultant anaesthetist Dr John Davies is volunteering in the medical team at the Rio Olympics. Here’s part two of his diary...

“My first shift at the Olympic Stadium last night and first opportunity to meet my colleagues.

The Medical Service at the Stadium is integrated, unlike the London arrangements, so that nurse covering the crowd roam the stands, and the Field of Play team out on the park, backing up the team medics, all radiate from our base, are briefed for that shift as a group, and keep in touch by radio.

The base is a suite of rooms immediately inside one of the corner access ramps, that goes right through the ground floor of the stadium. Air conditioned, thank goodness.

And if needs be, our own designated ambulances parked outside that could drive right through on to the pitch if that were needed. But not needed, touch wood.

The team is a mixture of nurses and some senior medical students in the crowd, and doctors at the base, who also form the Field of Play team, the Fop, ready to provide emergency care and who have the enormous privilege of having seats on the edge of the pitch far in front of the front seats, within touching distance of the athletes.

Not everyone can be out there at once, there must be some in the base to receive any casualties the crowd, so we rotate. Tonight we have women’s football, and a packed house who have come to see Brazil beat Sweden, which they did, 5 to 1!

It’s not surprising that despite several players rolling on the ground clutching knees or ankles there is no demand for our spinal boards and resuscitation kit.

Rather, business is better back in base where a constant stream of people with minor complaints are treated, either referred or brought in, sometimes in a wheel chair by the crowd nurses.

Some are from the stadium staff, from the “hotel services” side, some spectators, although the nurses bring back many more written reports of people they have treated, who would not leave the stands for fear of missing a moment of play. All minor, grazes from falling on the grandstand steps, feeling ill – it has been very hot, 30 degrees C, all day.

Despite the encroaching evening and that Brazilians know to drink their water freely, some have been seated for a long time. Very few, almost none, of the “alcohol related” illness that beseiges UK emergency rooms.

My colleagues at the base are Brazilian, of course, and Argentinian from the USA and one other British doctor.

I’m the only anaesthetist, the rest are A&E/ER doctors and orthopedic surgeons, with sports medicine interests. We also have physiotherapists at the base, who help care for casualties, and if needs be for athletes from small countries and teams that have limited back-up support, but as the stadium is staging football at present they have little to do there.

Language is a problem. I’ve leant enough for polite introductions, but however much “Good evening, how are you?” works well when making friends, it’s a bit inadequate when the patient has a twisted ankle.

My medical colleagues all speak good English, and seem grateful to have an airway specialist aboard, so I’ll stay in that role and not aspire to full Critical Care lead, which they are highly capable of providing.

Anyway, despite providing full details of my qualifications and registration, only Brazilian doctors may prescribe.

Nurses speak less English, but in a resuscitation event, I am confident that the universal procedures will be understood.

Drugs themselves are less universal, so perhaps that prescription rule is sensible. Brazilian practice includes some different drugs, and some with different names, some names are similar but with worryingly different spelling, some I need to resort to a Pharmacopoeia to know what they are.

An American colleague and I spent our first evening on shift labelling drug boxes with their European/US names, their purpose and function.

I’ve also assembled and tested our brand new ventilators, laid out an incubation tray, also all brand new kit, and everything else I can think of in case the worst should happen.

“Thinking black” has to be good practice in this situation, but the ‘glory of the games’ prevents any depression.

The uplift that a stadium full of people cheering gives still works, even if they are cheering for countries not your own.

And some of the football has been wonderful, even to this football-phobe! If you didn’t see the fourth goal, scored by team captain Marta (Vieira da Silva , but to all, ‘Marta’) it was a miraculous piece of footwork!”