1 April for most people is recognized as April Fool’s day and it is not uncommon to have some very elaborate hoaxes played on people. However, for the Clinical Services team and our Contact Centre, the request we received was definitely not an April Fool’s prank.
On 1 April 2010 a slightly desperate person called the ER24 Contact Centre, requesting our assistance with a desperately ill patient in Addis Ababa. Always up for a challenge, the question was asked “How can we assist you?”, after all we offer “realhelprealfast ".
We did not expect the answer we received, but we rose to the challenge and succeeded. This is our tale.
At 20h50 a call was received by Nicole de Montille from the ER24 Contact Centre supervisor (Elba van der Merwe) wondering if we could possibly transport urgent medication that was only available in South Africa to Addis Ababa that night, for a desperately ill patient who was too sick to be evacuated.
A flurry of phone calls and conversations ensued between Nicole, Dr Robyn Holgate, our marvelous travel agent Shannon Pretorius and Elba.
Shannon was able to get us a return trip ticket on a Kenyan Airways flight leaving at 00h50. Nicole managed to organize a Medic to fly; Robyn managed to organize the two urgent ampoules of intravenous medication from Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and Elba kept the client updated. Imagine their surprise when we informed them we were ready to go and waiting for the green light at 21h35.
The green light was given, and Jacques Bestbier found himself rapidly packing for a 24 hour trip to Ethiopia. In the meantime, the Johannesburg North Paramedic responded to WDGMC to collect the medication and delivered it to Jacques at the airport. All went well with the trip, even though Jacques’ passport was initially confiscated at immigration until he was able to exchange US dollars for Ethiopian currency to purchase his visa (we had visions of clandestine operations to break him out dancing through our heads) and the medication made it just in time for the patient to benefit.
One would think this was the end of the story, but it does not end here. At approximately 17h00 on Good Friday (2nd April), yet another call was made by the same client. It would appear that the two ampoules were not enough, and that the patient’s condition required another 28 ampoules as per the treating Physician in Addis Ababa. The client wanted to know if we could make it happen again.
A great deal of organizing and phone calls were made, except this time with a few additional challenges added to the mix. It turned out that the two ampoules that had gone up already were the last WDGMC had in stock and an urgent order had to be made to obtain the required 28 ampoules. There was no flight leaving South Africa for Ethiopia on a Friday night and finding a crew member proved a little more challenging than the first time.
Nicole was working on the road that weekend and was trying to organize all of this in between treating some very ill patients (fortunately she had a very good support structure from the crew in the East Rand). The Contact Centre Supervisor that night was Kristal Stander who had to play catch up on the events of the night before and try to keep things ticking over. Robyn was away for the long weekend in an area where cellular signal can best be described as sporadic and there was no such thing as 3G reception, so conversations were short and sweet when they did happen.
Shannon came to the party and made it happen again (although we did have a few exciting moments when we thought there were no seats available on any flight for 48 hours) and Illze Milbert was flown out that Sunday Morning, drugs in hand, a mere 24 hours after the first batch was handed over in Ethiopia and the clock was ticking.
Illze arrived safely and despite her initial misgivings found the Ethiopian reception to be quite warm and very accommodating. The Hilton Hotel Concierge desk at the airport were expecting her and made arrangements for her to be taken to the hotel and then the hospital. The medication arrived a mere 36 hours after the first batch and the patient was reported to have been doing better after the first two doses, but not out the woods yet.
Last reports received a week later, were that the patient was doing much better and was on the road to recovery.
Now that is living up to ER24’s reputation and motto of “realhelprealfast”.