HCMC emergency center's daily battle to save lives

By Anh Thu   June 13, 2020 | 10:02 pm PT
HCMC emergency center's daily battle to save lives
An ambulance car is stuck in traffic in HCMC, January 21, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
Medical practitioners at Ho Chi Minh City's 115 Emergency Center have to cope with everything from heavy traffic to violent gangsters on a daily basis.

On May 31, Nguyen Thanh Tri was rushing five victims of a house fire in his 115 Emergency Center ambulance on Le Trong Tan Street in Tan Phu District to the Children's Hospital 1.

Among them were a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old, both unconscious with carbon monoxide poisoning from smoke inhalation.

They had to be taken quickly to the hospital to save their lives.

Tri was glad the road was quite deserted. But as he stepped on the gas, a man on a motorbike encroached on the car lane, and rode slowly in front of the ambulance.

Tri honked, poked his head out and asked the man to get out of the way, but to no avail. Tri tried to go past but could not do so either. Finally the motorcyclist turned into another road and the ambulance could accelerate. Fortunately, the patients in the ambulance were saved.

Many road users in the city ignore the rule that they have to give way to ambulances and fire engines.

The law stipulates fines of VND500,000-1.2 million ($22-53) on drivers who refuse to make way for emergency vehicles, but this is rarely enforced.

Many argue that in the dense traffic on the city's streets, there is simply no way to give way to ambulances.

Traffic hazards are only one of many problems faced by emergency doctors.

Doctor Do Phu Dai, 26, head of the emergency team at the 115 Emergency Center, said he and his colleagues work in relatively dangerous conditions.

Besides a few emergencies at home, most of the cases they treat are on the road due to traffic accidents, fires, labor accidents, and brawls.

He remembered a recent incident when he received a call for emergency assistance for a victim of a knife attack.

He and two nurses arrived at the scene before the police. The victim was on the ground, holding his chest from where he was bleeding heavily. Next to him was a man with a machete warning people not to approach the injured man.

Dai and his team did not dare intervene immediately.

"We saw the victim’s condition getting worse, but we were helpless because there was no one to protect us.

"When the police controlled the attacker, we began giving first aid to the victim. After staunching his bleeding, we began to wonder if he had some infectious disease. All of us were worried and fearful."

Pressure from patients' families

Pressure from patients’ relatives and the overreaction of local residents also pose problems for emergency doctors.

Bui Thi Bich Ngoc, 27, said she has worked as a nurse for five years and been on the verge of crying many times.

On one occasion two years ago, she and her team rushed to the spot after receiving a call about a patient in District 5 being in critical condition following a heart attack.

The patient had a relative who was a doctor, and he was on the phone giving instructions and pressuring the team to save the person.

But the team stayed calm and took turns compressing the patient’s chest and gave him artificial respiration and drugs to.

After a two-hour battle his vital signs reappeared and the team took the patient to the hospital.

"While doctors and nurses make every effort to save the patient, shouting and intervention by family members create more pressure on the team," Ngoc said.

Indifference of bystanders

In the case of traffic accident victims, things are even worse. The scene is a road, and curious people surround the victim to live-stream or take pictures and do not call emergency services.

When emergency crews arrive, instead of providing assistance, people scold them or overreact.

Tri said: "The saddest thing in this profession is seeing victims die because of traffic jams or congestion. We hope road users’ awareness improves and they help us save lives."

A car runs in front of an ambulance vehicle on a street in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Thu.

A car runs in front of an ambulance vehicle on a street in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Thu.

HCMC, which has a population of 13 million, has for years been plagued by traffic congestion.

The number of private vehicles has been increasing exponentially, and there are now more than 825,000 cars and 8.1 million motorbikes in the city.

Images of ambulance cars struggling to go past motorbike drivers during rush hour to take critically patients to hospitals are not uncommon in Vietnam, and some reckless motorcyclists even speed in front of ambulances and refuse to give way.

HCMC’s 115 Emergency Center has been operating since 2014. It has only 16 doctors and 60 nurses and 11 ambulances to cover the sprawling city.

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