|To the rescue:Da Nang Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre (Danang MRCC) assists two boats at Mui Tan Harbour in the central province of Binh Dinh. In the past 11 years, Danang MRCC and Emergency Centre 115 have saved hundreds of fishermen's lives in the Paracel Islands area. VNS Photo Ly Kha
Despite the weather, day or night, whenever there is a medical emergency at sea, doctors from the central province of Da Nang immediately head out to the vessels that need help. Nam Cuong reports
"I go wherever people need help, whether it's near or far," says Ton That Tuan, a doctor from Emergency Centre 115 in the central province of Da Nang.
Even offshore: whether it's day or night, when they get a call that someone needs rescue, Tuan and his colleagues immediately put on their white clothes and head for the open sea.
"It has been 11 years since the first sea ambulance was launched," says Pham Thi Anh Hong, deputy director of the centre.
"Since then, our doctors have dealt with 45 to 50 severe emergency cases. Besides, we have provided professional first aid advice to hundreds more via radio."
While the main duty of Emergency Centre 115 is helping those on land, the centre also co-operates to rescue offshore victims with Da Nang Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC), local coastguards and naval forces.
Tuan's most unforgettable memory is of the storm season of 2006, when he received a call from the Committee for Flood and Storm Control asking for doctors to sail out to help sailors in distress.
Even though it was raining heavily, Tuan prepared medicine and specialised equipment and rushed out to the open sea. Due to the strong winds and rough sea, it took the team over a night to reach the ship in distress, which was miles away. The initial first aid effort also faced many obstacles, as the ship was constantly hit by strong waves, making both the victims and the doctors collide frequently.
"Facing the severe storm, while the ship was rocking from side to side and I myself was both seasick and hungry, I still managed to hold on to the rope ladder so that the sailor could pull me over. In such weather, a tiny mistake could make you easily fall into the sea and become food for the sharks," Tuan says.
"On the way back, a sailor was in critical condition, as he was bleeding because of organ rupture, so I required the ship to land at Cam Ranh Port immediately to rush the victim into the hospital. After the operation was successful, I caught the bus to return to Da Nang after three days struggling against the waves."
Dr. Hong recalls a trip to save fishermen in Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands) area in 2011.
Even though the ship was big and sailing smoothly, Hong and the doctor who accompanied her still felt so seasick they had to lie down all night. However, when they approached the distressed ship the next morning, the two doctors woke up immediately to give first aid to the Vietnamese fishermen, as well as Chinese and Indian fishermen on other ships.
|Lifesavers:Doctors at Emergency Centre 115 in Da Nang give first aid to a fisherman. File photo
But Dr Nguyen Tan Pho, director of Emergency Centre 115, still feels that the facility is not well-equipped for its rescue efforts.
"Most fishermen who have an unexpected accident or sickness on the open sea have to administer first aid on their own before receiving help from the rescue teams," he says.
"Those who suffer from serious conditions like appendicitis tend to die before being brought back to shore."
Dr Ngo Thi Phuong Thao, another deputy director of the centre, adds that remote diagnosis can be difficult – or impossible.
"If a fisherman has appendicitis in the Paracels area, the doctors can only ask them to drink lots of water or milk," she says. "The condition is difficult to diagnose directly in a hospital with modern equipment, let alone on a telephone with poor signal."
If a fisherman has an accident, he calls Da Nang MRCC, which then connects him with the centre. After that, the doctors instruct him over the phone how to give first aid to himself.
According to Thao, these emergency situations often come about because fishermen neglect their health.
"The fishermen tend to take for granted that they are healthy as they have got used to the waves and the wind, but it is hard to predict sicknesses like appendicitis or hypertension or sudden accidents," she says. "And most of them do not know about first aid. We have suggested organising first aid classes for fishermen and providing medical equipment and medicine for each ship. However, a lack of money has been a perpetual obstacle." — VNS