TAA flight doctor: a day in the life

Professor Dr Andreas Fette is one of the most experienced flight doctors at Austria’s Tyrol Air Ambulance (TAA), with over 20 years’ experience on air ambulance missions. He recently shared a typical day in the life of a flight doctor on the TAA blog.
I am on standby to fly air ambulance missions with TAA over the coming days. It’s something I always look forward to, and I make sure that my belongings are packed in advance in case I get called. As so often happens, it doesn’t take long before my phone rings. The display shows the familiar number of TAA’s Operations Control Centre (OCC). “Hi Andreas, it’s Leonie, I have a flight schedule for you.”
Mission briefing
During our call, Leonie emails me the preliminary information about the air ambulance mission. It’s a double transport of two trauma patients. The repatriation will be from Scotland to Denmark. “OK, see you tomorrow, I’ll pass you to Eva for the patient assessment…”
I then speak about the case to Eva, one of TAA’s team of experienced assessment doctors: “Our patients are a Danish couple who have both suffered severe injuries. They were driving on holiday in their rental car in Scotland when they suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the road on a corner and they collided frontally with a coach coming in the opposite direction. The wife suffered a polytrauma, the husband sustained complicated eye and hand injures, as well as severe bruising. After primary care has been delivered, both patients should be transported back home as soon as possible…”
Outbound flight
Before we depart from home base at Innsbruck Airport, I meet my colleague Patricia, who will be the intensive care nurse onboard this mission. We perform routine pre-flight checks on our medical equipment, also discussing the extra mission-specific equipment we will need. Once this is completed, we get to work loading our equipment and setting up the aircraft for departure. We meet our pilots Artur and Christian at the hangar and have our joint briefing. “The weather is going to be bad,” reports Artur, “so we will need to be sure that the patients are stable and secure.”
Destination: Highlands
Our G100 takes off on time with the heading set for Scotland. As the clouds lift, the airport comes into view and our pilots land on schedule. Our taxi is already waiting to take me and Patricia to the small regional hospital.
During the trip, I remark to Patricia that ‘the roads are in a bad, bumpy condition, and the transport time to the airport will be around one hour, which could be a serious issue for our patients’.
At the hospital, we are brought straight to the intensive care unit, where the Danish couple is eagerly awaiting our arrival. We take the patients into our care and transfer the wife onto our stretcher using a vacuum mattress. Her husband is transported from the hospital by wheelchair. I discuss with both patients the need to administer a sedative for the transport, due to the condition of the roads and the weather, to ensure that they are not subjected to any further stress after what they have already been through. Both patients accept my suggestion and Patricia activates the syringe pump. We then proceed by ground ambulance to our awaiting air ambulance jet. Our patients take the road journey well, and their vitals are normal. Our pilots have already prepared the patient loading system at the aircraft door so that boarding our ‘flying intensive care unit’ can proceed immediately.
The positioning of both patients, as well as our monitoring equipment and the syringe pump, are double checked, and once the all-clear is given, Artur shuts the cabin door, and gives us an update on the situation in Denmark: “Patricia, Andreas, the weather at the airport is really very bad, you should be aware that it might be a bumpy landing. I will contact our OCC by phone as well as the tower, so that everything is well prepared for us on arrival.”
Flying home: an emotional welcome
Soon after, we take off and leave Scotland behind. As an ‘active hospital flight’, we normally get the overtaking lane in the sky and the highest priority for landings. Patricia and I care for both patients during the flight, in particular the husband, who continues to blame himself for the accident. Their vitals remain stable, our equipment is performing excellently and Patricia and I work hand-in-hand as a co-ordinated team to look after the patients.
Half an hour before landing, some good news is delivered from the cockpit: “The weather is stable, we can land as planned. Our OCC has made arrangements with the Tower that they can disembark in a hanger, which is definitely better for them than in the driving rain on the runway.” After landing at the small Danish airport, our jet taxies to the nearby hanger where both patients are successfully transferred into the awaiting ground ambulance and into the care of the local emergency doctor.
Neither patient complained of any pain during the flight and both coped very well with the transport. The local flight authorities were very understanding and allowed the patients’ extended family into the hanger, which makes for an emotional reunion. Amid these emotional scenes, our pilots are more than happy to show the grandchildren the cockpit of the G100 that had taken granny and grandad home safely. We report back to the OCC ‘mission accomplished’ and say our goodbyes before returning to base.
One mission ends, another begins…
Back in Innsbruck, I write up the medical report for the case. As soon as I have finished and submitted it, my phone rings again with ‘TAA OCC’ on the display. “Hi Andreas, it’s Leonie again. I have another flight schedule for you. Also, before I forget, our Danish patients contacted us and wanted to pass on their thanks for the fantastic support they received. Both of them are on the road to recovery. Please stay on the line and I’ll transfer you to Eva for the patient assessment…”