‘I suffered multiple injuries in a fall while walking in the Alps’

Case study: Paul Cullen’s trauma injury received speedy expertise in a German hospital

Journalist Paul Cullen: “A helicopter arrived to whisk me off a remote mountain valley within 20 minutes of my fall, thus reducing the risk posed by hypothermia. It took me down to the valley floor to a waiting ambulance, in which my injuries were assessed and stabilising treatment given.”

Journalist Paul Cullen: “A helicopter arrived to whisk me off a remote mountain valley within 20 minutes of my fall, thus reducing the risk posed by hypothermia. It took me down to the valley floor to a waiting ambulance, in which my injuries were assessed and stabilising treatment given.”

 

Last October, I suffered multiple injuries in a fall while walking in the Alps. I needed urgent and specialised care in order to survive the accident and make the best possible recovery.

Thanks to the well-resourced and well-organised system of trauma care in Germany, this was available and I am making an excellent recovery.

I think the experience highlights the benefits of an integrated system of care, one that gets the injured patient to a centre staffed by highly experienced doctors as speedily as possible.

Trauma care is only as good as its weakest link. Any delay in getting the patient to the operating table lessens the chances of survival or a decent recovery. Conversely, the best-organised rescue service is of minimal use if staff in the hospital lack the skills or experience to treat the patient effectively.

In my case, a helicopter arrived to whisk me off a remote mountain valley within 20 minutes of my fall, thus reducing the risk posed by hypothermia. It took me down to the valley floor to a waiting ambulance, in which my injuries were assessed and stabilising treatment given. It was originally intended to transport me to the nearest hospital, but due to the complex nature of my injuries the first responders decided more specialised treatment was needed.

Helicopter to hospital

As a result, the helicopter flew me on to a hospital south of Munich that specialises in trauma injuries alone.

Though it was a Saturday evening, the trauma team in the hospital were on hand for my arrival. They were back on duty the following morning to carry out the operation I required.

No patient wants to go under the knife but most will take reassurance from the fact that their surgeons are competent and experienced. It was good therefore to hear that the team in my hospital in Murnau performed the type of operation I required about 300 times a year – once a day, almost.

Thankfully, the operation went well and my recuperation began immediately. From the first days after the operation, the physiotherapist was on hand to get me moving again. I was placed in a three-bed public ward, where I spent the next two weeks. The cost of the operation and my stay were covered by the European Health Insurance Card.

I was struck by the differences between the German and Irish systems in relation to rehabilitation. The advice I got from Irish people who had suffered similar injuries to mine and were treated in Ireland essentially boiled down to “you’re on your own” in terms of rehab.

In contrast, my fellow patients in Germany could look forward to regular treatment by support staff to speed up their recovery, including a two-week residential stay during which intensive physiotherapy is administered.