When your hospital is a jungle…life on expedition by Claire, Raleigh Borneo medic.

10th December 2014

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Raleigh volunteers are lucky enough to work in some of Borneo’s most beautiful, untouched and remote locations. However, these environments can be unpredictable and pose certain risks.  Raleigh puts the health and safety of its volunteers at the forefront of all expeditions and the medic team play a vital role in ensuring that the high standards are met.  In this blog, we hear from Claire, one of Raleigh Borneo 14J’s medics about her experience.

 The decision to exchange the four walls of a hospital for the expanse of Borneo wilderness was an easy one. What better opportunity to push myself personally and professionally? To face challenges, use my skills to provide training and healthcare for venturers and Raleigh staff and to meet and work with a whole new team of people who make this experience so unique?

The weeks that have passed here have been packed with challenges, some difficulties, numerous highlights and great memories.  My first phase was based in Kampung Abingkoi, a small, remote village in the southwest of Sabah. As a WASH project, its aim was to promote health and hygiene awareness, to construct sanitation units and provide access to cleaner water. Evidently, given the project’s health impacts, I was very keen to get involved.

Being the Medic on a static community site like Kampung Abingkoi poses all manner of potential medical scenarios; caring for injuries acquired from trekking to and from work sites; managing the rapid spread of any bugs round the group (given rather close living quarters); not to mention any scenarios involving work tools which were thankfully rare.

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Much of the medical work has been abiding by the old saying “prevention is better than cure” and offering care for wounds and upset stomachs. That is until someone twists their ankle and then through a lot of clear communication across a crackly radio, decent decision making and a whole host of logistical planning we’re able to get them to a hospital and back on the mend!

The next phase was the Adventure Phase; trekking through dense jungle in Long Pasia. This was the phase where adaptability as a Medic was key! When managing wounds and injuries in the rain, under a tarpaulin, with your patient in a hammock and your feet ankle deep in mud with leeches lurking nearby, you have to have a certain level of durability, focus and persistence to look after your venturer to your best ability. Just when you celebrate getting through the jungle as a team don’t let your guard down too quickly and forget that the sun beaming down on everyone on Dive Island along with those pesky sandflies can cause almost as much trouble.

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Lastly I have had a phase at Fieldbase, the Raleigh staff’s base in Kota Kinabalu. Being the medic here means being resident Doc for staff and being on call for venturer or staff medical issues (no matter how big or small) occurring on projects across Sabah. This phase is the one for communicating across those crackling radios, giving reassurance and the best advice possible to help those in the field and, if or when necessary, working with colleagues to coordinate evacuations of anyone needing to come back to Fieldbase for some care and attention. I’ve also become a bit of a pharmacist and an accountant; making sure that all the medical kits and Fieldbase stock have everything they need, preparing things for the next expedition, battling with Excel and succeeding in making sure all the medical accounts are as they should be! 

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My experience as a Medic with Expedition 14J, Raleigh Borneo, has been something I will never forget and something that I will miss dearly when I get back to the UK. All the phases posed different challenges which have helped me grow as a medic and as an individual. I want to thank all the staff and venturers of 14J for making my job here as a medic fun and engaging. Moreover I would like to thank them all for the fun times, hysterical laughter, and for being an unforgettable team!