Dropping an Olympian: 5 gold-medal lessons for EMS

EMS providers need to prepare for the public attention and scrutiny of providing event medical services so they can focus on the needs of the patient

On August 6, French gymnast Samir Ait Said suffered a debilitating open fracture of his left tibia and fibula coming off a preliminary vault run at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. While the crowd gasped at the sight of the malformed extremity, photos were snapped and began circulating around the world. The situation became more complicated when a video was released showing the red-shirted Rio medical staff dropping the Olympian on the stretcher while attempting to load him into the back of the ambulance.

What started as a story about a horrible injury quickly spiraled into another story of how those there to help him appeared ill prepared to do so. There is always a higher level of scrutiny while providing event medical services. In addition to taking care of the injured patient, medics also have to deal with the added pressure of becoming the focus of the crowd and camera lenses present at the event.

Here are five gold-medal lessons every provider should learn from this situation at the Rio Olympics to better prepare for future high-profile incidents in their response areas.

1. Know your equipment
Providers need to know what equipment is available to them, but also how to operate it. The thirty minutes spent on an in-service practice session with new or unfamiliar equipment, like an ambulance stretcher, can potentially save you from the humiliation of hundreds of thousands in viral video views.

2. Know your crew
The Olympics are a bit unique in that they have health care providers coming from all over the world to render their services, many of whom are volunteering their time. This makes it even more important to get to know those who you are working with. In addition to potential language barriers, there is also the difference in protocols and practices that needs to be overcome. Providers who have just met should take the time to drill and practice on likely injuries.

3. Know the plan
Each venue is unique in its design, layout and challenges. Make sure to know the response plan for the venue. Practice responding from a post as a single responder, as well as having a stretcher crew move to evacuate a patient from various locations in the building.

These drills will serve to familiarize you and your crew with the plan, the venue and also highlight potential problems prior to executing an emergency response and transporting in real-time. Plans may need to be altered to solve those problems. The sooner you know about problems, the sooner you can act on them.

4. Stay alert during the event
Personnel posted on the event floor should pay close attention to the competitors and officials for sudden injuries and respond accordingly. Posted personnel in the concourses and spectator areas of the venue should be focused on the crowd, not the event floor.

Typically, event plans call for an average response time no greater than two minutes throughout the venue. Often the expectation is a 30-second response to the event floor or field. Responder alertness, conveying the specific location of the call, prompt notification and clear communication are key attributes needed to reach these response time goals.

5. Practice the basics
Regardless of the venue size or the country you are in, universal precautions are exactly that: universal. Every response starts with the basic principles and practices of scene safety, body substance isolation, patient lifting and movement and team communication. For the French gymnast, Samir Ait Said, a seemingly small problem of poor communication and poor stretcher technique is glaringly obvious as it is broadcast around the world.

Rendering care under the scrutiny and glare of a high-profile athletic event is never an easy task. This is why it is crucial for responders to drill for the situation beforehand and to throughly understand protocol. When the moment comes, a prepared provider is able to ignore the glare of the lights, the camera shutter clicks and the crowd's whispers to place their attention where it belongs ― on the patient.

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