If you continue without changing your settings, we’ll assume you’re happy to receive all cookies from the BMA website. Find out more about cookies
When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalised web experience.
Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.
These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms.
You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.
These cookies are required
These cookies allow us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information we collect is anonymous unless you actively provide personal information to us.
If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance.
These cookies allow a website to remember choices you make (such as your user name, language or the region you're in) and tailor the website to provide enhanced features and content for you.
For example, they can be used to remember certain log-in details, changes you've made to text size, font and other parts of pages that you can customise. They may also be used to provide services you've asked for such as watching a video or commenting on a blog. These cookies may be used to ensure that all our services and communications are relevant to you. The information these cookies collect cannot track your browsing activity on other websites.
Without these cookies, a website cannot remember choices you've previously made or personalise your browsing experience meaning you would have to reset these for every visit. In addition, some functionality may not be available if this category is switched off.
Our websites sometimes integrate with other companies’ sites. For example, we integrate with social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, to make it easier for you to share what you have read. These sites place their own cookies on your browser as a result of us including their icons and ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons on our sites.
There is a theme that runs through everything that is thrown at emergency departments. It doesn’t matter whether the patient suffers from a splinter in their finger or has been hit by a train – for every single patient who turns up has been beaten by time.
The margin between having an accident or not can be as little as a fraction of a second, separating the life-changing circumstance which have brought flashing lights and sirens to our door, from a near miss perhaps not even noticed. Near misses don’t come our way in an ED, but they do underline the thinness of the life string which we all depend upon and how our decisions (or lack of them) can profoundly affect the rest of our day, week, month or life.
How often have we looked at a patient and wondered if they had spotted something in a shop window and briefly paused, would the falling scaffold have missed them as they walked beneath? Or perhaps it was the decision to stop and buy a newspaper earlier, or to walk instead of catching a bus that left the victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Had they stayed in bed an extra five minutes, or instead of perusing a smartphone screen, had looked at the traffic and followed the advice the Green Giant taught them as children, their accident would not have happened.
(Before you tell me it wasn’t the Green Giant, it was the Green Cross Code man from the 1970s who taught road safety, can I just point out that if you had eaten your sweetcorn like the Giant told you to, you’d have spent an extra minute and a half in the toilet and the traffic would have moved on.)
We’re now into the season of motorbike road racing, where entire islands are given over to the pursuit of impossible speeds on mountain roads where the only protection from life in a wheelchair, or none at all, boils down to some bales of straw attached to telephone poles or placed against a gatepost, and the time factor is measured in milli- or microseconds.
But these races only occur over a couple of weeks, and the two or three deaths a year seem to be acceptable to race organisers, their competitors, supporters and would-be racers, fired up by the excitement of screaming engines and oil smoke and preparing to have their own accident on their way home.
All accidents have a timing dimension, and an opportunity therefore exists for them to have been avoided, if only we were more spatially aware and perceptive of potential danger, but unfortunately that’s the problem – we’re human and we’re not paying enough attention, we’re reacting too slowly, we’re standing in the wrong place, we’re trusting ourselves to machines at impossible speeds, and we’re worrying about Brexit and all the wrong things rather than being aware of our surroundings and the lurking dangers.
Charles Lamb is a consultant in emergency medicine. He writes under a pseudonym
Did you know the Green Cross Code man was Darth Vader!?!?!?
Some years ago, I was asked by a colleague to escort a patient. At the end of that journey, I was badly injured in casualty, being cared for by her. Had she gone, I would have been looking after her, instead. For a long time afterward, she felt guilty of her request, and I was haunted by the guilt I knew I would have felt had she gone. We remain friends, but that "what if" question still hangs there between us. We both made decisions which were correct at the time, only regrettable due to unexpected subsequent results. Neither of us was to blame for the accident. One learns to live with the consequences!
In response to a question of whether one would like to be immortal, a person answered that he would not, as his chances of getting involved in a disabling accident would increase year after year, and he would be forced to spend an eternity in a wheelchair or in a bed, either being looked after or not.