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One bleep can mean life or death

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:08 03 March 2010

THEY give up their free time to tackle traumatic jobs that no human being should ever have to face. They, are SARS doctors.

In this first of two meeting-the-doctors features, JON TUNNEY finds out why Dr Paul Silverston is one of this band of unsung heroes and why The Evening Star's £20,000 Save A Life Appeal to buy state-of-the-art equipment is so vital.

SUFFOLK Accident Rescue Service doctors live their lives at the end of a pager.

And pagers don't pay much attention to social circumstances or hours of the day.

So if the doctor's pager bleeps, it doesn't matter if they are in the shower or fast asleep.

Even a romantic dinner with a loved one or a family party will go by the wayside if the call comes.

Because every minute is vital for a SARS doctor. Any delay in answering the call could mean the difference between life and death.

The SARS doctor is often first to the site of a road crash. And even if paramedics are already at the scene their skills can still be vital in dealing with the horrific injuries caused by car crashes.

It is no exaggeration to say the life of a car crash victim could depend on a pager.

And when communications are obviously so crucial, we at The Evening Star believe that the best communications should be available.

That means state-of-the-art satellite positioning and the ability to communicate with each other – and other emergency services – while en route to the crash site.

SARS chairman Dr Paul Silverston is in no doubt the Evening Star's Save a Life campaign will do just that when it succeeds in raising the £20,000 needed for new communications equipment.

He said: "It will bring our communications into the 21st Century. It will enable us to react more rapidly.

"It will allow us to communicate when we are en route to the accident and once we are there.

"When we are dealing with casualties we will be able to ring the hospital and make sure the appropriate people are available.

"Time is lost if you have to wait until the patient has been taken to hospital before a specialist is called in."

Dr Silverston has been a rescue doctor since 1979 and he readily admits coming face to face with some terrible scenes.

Many would think a doctor was automatically prepared for traumatic times.

But no "normal" doctor works in comparable conditions.

Dr Silverston said: "You see things that you would never see in general practice or in hospital medicine.

"It's quite, quite different to see injured people at the road-side."

Many people would wonder what motivates relatively well-paid and already highly respected people to give up their valuable time when much of what they see is so heartbreaking.

You are also entitled to question their motivation when you consider the stress their family and private lives suffer as a result.

Dr Silverston is very clear as to his motivation – the desire to help people that first brought him to the medical profession.

He said: "I've never had any second thoughts. I came into medicine to save lives and relieve pain.

"A lot more than moving bits of paper and doing audits, this job goes back to the fundamentals of being a doctor.

"You just have to deal with things the best you can. And when you deal with the traumas it puts the rest of life into perspective.

"I hope people never have to experience anything like it, but you get very nice letters of gratitude when you have helped people or relieved their pain.

"But the ones that need our skills the most are often not aware of it."

Of course it is not just the intense trauma of dealing with the aftermath of a car crash that takes its toll.

SARS doctors can be woken in the middle of the night and have to shake off the sleep before heading off to the scene.

And often it is not just the doctor who has disturbed sleep. Husbands and wives also share in the stress of the night-time call-out.

"Calls that come in during the night are going to be disturbing," said Dr Silverston.

"But they are few and far between and you don't get too many disturbed nights.

"Every so often you get a few nights which can really exhaust you because you can be up for several hours and still have to go to work the next morning.

"One is acutely aware of the effect on families – when you get woken up, your wife or girlfriend gets woken up too.

"You have to protect yourself and your relationships. You can only really do this job with the blessing of your family."

The grind of being available at all hours, the voluntary nature of the job and the traumatic circumstances which often face doctors would seem to suggest being a SARS doctor is an almost thankless task.

But when Dr Silverston tells you of his most moving experience with SARS, you can see the benefits.

Bob Skitch was kneeling next to his car at the side of the A14 replacing a tyre when he was hit by a passing vehicle.

The impact carried him yards down the road. When Dr Silverston arrived at the scene Mr Skitch was very near death.

But the doctors' expert skills brought him back from the brink and changed his life – literally.

Following his near-death experience Bob Skitch went back to school and retrained as a teacher.

At an emotional reunion ten years after the accident, Mr Skitch greeted Dr Silverston with the words: "Everything I am, I owe to you."

That is why SARS needs your money.

If you are holding an event to raise money for Save A Life SARS Appeal why not get in touch with us and we will give it publicity. Contact the Evening Star Newsdesk on 01473 282292 or e-mail StarNews@eveningstar.co.uk

To donate money send cheques (made payable to Save A Life SARS Appeal) to Geraldine Thompson, editors secretary, Evening Star, 30, Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN.

Alternatively you can place your donations in to one of the collection boxes around the Star's Christmas Tree on Ipswich Cornhill.

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