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Overseas crash – Ian Macartney crash tests Aussie hospitals

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This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #22

There’s nothing more frightening than entering the medical system of a foreign country. Most riders don’t think about it, but for racers the thought is scarier than the injury, especially in non-English-speaking countries. But what about international riders who need medical help in Australia? How do they fare? Kiwi Ian Macartney gave us a first-hand account.

November 16, 2016, was a stunning, blue-sky day on winding back-country roads in the Hunter Valley of NSW. Four riders were heading from Walcha to Bathurst. I’d recently completed 3000km off-road on two rides: the Maschine NSW Four Day the GS Safari in Queensland. I was feeling pretty thankful myself and my trusty F800GS had both survived.

Having ridden approximately 50,000km around Australia over the past four years I’d often imagined the scenario of encountering a ’roo at close quarters and thought what I’d do. ‘Brake, swerve and dodge in some amazing manoeuvre worthy of putting on Youtube,’ I thought, expecting to come out the other side bathed in glory with a bewildered ’roo staring in amazement at my skill in saving both our lives.

When it finally did happen, it didn’t happen that way at all.

Author and New Zealander Ian Macartney had ridden 50,000km around Australia without incident.

On the hop

It was after lunch and we were 280km into a 500km section when a reasonable-sized kangaroo chose to cross the road in front of the second rider in the group.

That was me.

When I saw its camouflaged shape it was maybe two metres off my right side and tracking at 60 degrees to my front wheel.

It burst out of a long roadside tree shadow like a rocket. We were riding down a narrow valley with steep sides on an immaculate, newly sealed surface. In the instant I realised what was about to happen, I also realised there was going to be no braking, no lean-and-swerve, and I definitely wasn’t going to have any glorious footage for Youtube.

I gripped the ’bars tight and braced for impact, hoping in that spare millisecond maybe it would bounce off and I’d carry on.

Real world

The bike went straight down on the right side at 100kph, fortunately not high-siding. I hit the deck and my forearms ended up under me like skis. Riders behind watched and said I cartwheeled as well. For me it was all a bit vague, but I definitely heard the grinding of my gear getting shredded and my bike sliding.

From the look of the fur stuck to my tank and boots the ’roo must also have been pushed down the road in front of, or under, me and the bike.

After what seemed like an interminably long time – about 60m of distance – we all ground to a halt and like anyone who’s reached this point my first thought was, ‘Hell! I’m alive! Is everything working?’There was no pain in the groin area so I was pleased about that. My arms, neck, ribs and hands seemed okay as I picked myself up off the road.

No doubt I was full of adrenalin, but I could feel a twinge in my right knee and leg.

On the road lay my bike, the sole of my boot, a wing mirror and a dead kangaroo of about 40kg. My friends were in a state of shock. I was mainly relieved.

Ian’s BMW F800GS was a model of reliability. Even after hitting the ’roo and sliding down the road it carried him four hours to the nearest hospital.

Good job

My riding friends picked up the bike and pushed it to the roadside, and it didn’t look too bad, considering. The ’roo was dragged into the bush beside the road and would take no further part in proceedings.

Fortunately the rider behind me was Georgia, a NSW Ambulance paramedic.

The riders set up a camping stool in the shade and stripped off my gear to assess injuries. ‘Shock’ was in the list.

I had a few large friction burns on both arms that were oozing blood and covered in flies.

Georgia applied Betadine and large non-stick pads, then bandaged the arms. She did an amazing job.

The 2016 BMW Safari was a highlight.

Gear report

My three-week-old, $1300, Klim Badlands jacket with the latest D30 armour, Armacor material and triple-bonded Gortex had shredded the right forearm completely through and there were various holes in the left arm. The Rallye 3 pants had a hole in the right knee material and the leather knee patch was well-scuffed with all the BMW imprinted logos removed. The Klim Inversion gloves were scuffed and showed the odd hole, but no skin had been damaged on my hands.

The BMW knee armour was superb due to its size and coverage. It didn’t stop my knee twisting but did stop any skin damage and reduced the impact severity.

The impact damage was bad enough, even with the protection.

Diadora Adventure boots did their job even though the sole was ripped off one of them.

There were a few deep grooves on the jaw and visor of my helmet, but little visible impact damage.

After inspecting the bike and riding it up the road a bit it seemed fine.

Quality apparel did its job.

Pill low

While these assessments were being done my knee joint started to expand. What I didn’t know at that point was the leg was broken.

My Garmin showed Bathurst hospital to be 220km away.

I figured with the V8 Supercars racing there it’d have a reasonable sized medical centre, but I was wrong. I later discovered Orange, a further 50km away, was the region’s main hospital with 24-hour surgical teams.

The others helped me on the bike. I pulled my leg up by the pants, placed the foot on the ’peg and set off, full of Panadol (the only drugs we had). I settled in to the four-hour ride, passing lots of kangaroo-warning signs.

In the middle of some single-lane roadworks we had to make an adjustment to the bent handguard as it was jamming the front brake on – that was tricky – then we stopped at a pharmacy to buy some more painkillers. The pain increased as I counted down the kilometres.

Having friends around at the time of the incident made a huge difference.

Frame up

I was so pleased to see Bathurst. I rode to the front door of the hospital’s emergency ward and my fellow riders held the bike, put the sidestand down, got a wheelchair, poured me in to it and we checked in.

I did have comprehensive, worldwide medical insurance, but it’s worth noting Australia has a no-charge reciprocal treatment agreement with hospital services in New Zealand.

The next five hours were a blur of injections, intravenous fluids, blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, and, finally, a full-length leg brace and crutches. Because it was after hours there was no MRI facility or orthopaedic team available.

It’s also worth noting in Australia any motor-vehicle accident on a public road requires a compulsory a blood test for the driver/rider.

Examination did identify a shattered fibula head and oblique fracture further down, plus suspected serious knee-ligament damage. After consulting elsewhere I was discharged into the night at 11:30pm and sent to a motel where my friends had a room for me.

The doctor gave me a letter for the airline, another for my doctor, a couple of CDs of X-rays and CT scans and a packet of painkillers. He said I’d be okay to travel home as long as I got immediate treatment and an MRI scan.

So that was reassuring.

On reflection the duty of care during this part of the ordeal was possibly a little questionable. I was a bit out of it on injected painkillers and not in a debating frame of mind, but I can’t say I was too impressed and the insurance company was even less so.

A little worse for wear after the incident and then riding four hours to get medical help.

Weight a while

Next morning I crutched over to the breakfast room with my riding buddies. In town they scored a big gearbag for me and some better bandages to get me home.

After having ridden much of Australia solo it was an absolute godsend to have support on this trip. I can’t thank these guys enough for their help at every turn and it was very humbling. It would’ve been a totally different scenario on my own, for sure.

It raises some important points about having essentials like a first-aid kit, money, passport, phone and charger, emergency phone numbers, and spare clothing in your tankbag or tailbag to grab in an emergency.

I had some of those things, but not all, in my tankbag.

I sat alone in a motel room a long way from home in a town where I knew absolutely no one. I had a damaged bike parked outside, 30kg of luggage strewn about the room and instructions to keep the leg horizontal and non-weight-bearing.

It was a challenge.

Crutching off to breakfast.

Pizza ’ere

I spent most of the day on my mobile (a $5-per-day Vodafone roaming phone-and-data deal was a lifesaver) talking to the travel-insurance providers and the bike insurer.

A fellow BMW adventure-rider friend, John Read, who lived more than an hour away, came and collected my bike and took it home. That solved one big hassle for me.

Next, after several long phone conversa-tions and interviews, I had to send copies of the medical reports – seven pages – and passport to the travel-insurance company.

This is where being able to photograph documents and email them with the iphone or iPad was invaluable. I would’ve been stuffed without it. The insurance company’s medical and travel teams got busy behind the scenes and a few hours later the claim had been approved and transport arrangements were being finalised.

I spent rest of the day packing my bike gear, tools, panniers and so forth into the huge gear bag. After that it was dial-a-pizza for dinner.

Time out

Another Queensland GS Adventure rider called in on his way south to say hello and offer help. The adventure-riding community is something else, I’ve got to say.

The next morning I was up early to get ready for a 6:00am departure. It took half an hour to get on a single sock before a minibus arrived for the three-hour ride to Sydney airport.

Air New Zealand took over when I arrived. Bags disappeared, the wheelchair was pushed all the way to the business lounge and later to the door of the plane. I’ve never travelled that fast through an airport. Around 14 hours after leaving Bathurst I landed in Whangarei, pleased to be home.

The medical team from the travel insurance company kept in touch by phone and email all the way home and for several days afterwards. They were totally professional and compassionate.

The Australian bike insurer dealt quickly with the claim and classed it as a repairable write off. I’m still sorting out the clothing claim and also the miscellaneous items of unused accom and airfares.

Two weeks after returning home I’d had an MRI, orthopaedic review and various interviews. My claims and surgery had been approved.

It turned out the fibula head had shattered and there was also an oblique fibula fracture. The tibia-head had also fractured and there were severe contusions, both menisci were shredded and needed to be removed. The doctor’s prognosis was 12 weeks for the bone damage to heal without plating or pinning and probably six to nine months for a full recovery.

Lessons from experience

• It’s a good idea to ride with friends for company and support
• Have your essentials in a single bag you can grab or your friends can chuck in an ambulance if things go wrong
• Invest in the best riding gear you can possibly afford
• Carry the best travel insurance you can. Make sure it covers motorcycling, top medical cover and return home
• Carry a modern camera-phone with an overseas call-and-data plan
• Photograph your insurance policy and emergency contacts to refer to
• Carry cash and credit cards enough to get you home if you’re incapacitated (food, tips, medicine, Adventure Rider Magazine at the Airport)
• Patience, politeness and a sense of humour are important no matter how rubbish you feel
• Keep an emergency-info card in your wallet in case you’re unconscious. List your name, insurance information and contact details of your next-of-kin
• Carry a first-aid kit with serious, large, 75cm nonstick pads, two large crepe bandages, tape, decent wound cream and serious painkilling tablets. Don’t scrimp
• Carry a PLB ( Personal Locator Beacon). I have one in my jacket at all times. Consider a satellite locator/ communicator like an InReach or SPOT or even a satellite phone as well
• Make sure you have clear medical instructions and diagnosis from the doctor or hospital for the airlines and insurance company

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