Doc. Returns From Olympic Duty

Courtesy of Jay Doucet

UCSD trauma surgeon Jay Doucet returned to San Diego on Feb. 20 after a 10-day stint in Whistler, Canada, where he helped Olympic athletes recover from injuries alongside other volunteer doctors from across the country.

Doucet, a Canada native, was stationed in a makeshift emergency tent 75 miles from Vancouver, where he treated athletes participating in events such as the biathlon, Alpine skiing, ski jumping, bobsled and luge.

Doucet said the distance from Whistler to Vancouver was the biggest obstacle for the program he partnered with — the Mobile Medical Unit.

The Mobile Medical Unit is a portable hospital designed to handle injuries from the most dangerous winter sports: bobsled, downhill skiing and the luge. The unit consists of a 10,000 square foot tent and one large bus that together house eight intensive care unit beds, an operating room and a post-op recovery room. The hospital is typically located nearby a helicopter landing pad for easy access.

Since the hospital was so isolated, doctors could only use readily available resources to treat patients or helicopter them out of Whistler.

Doucet said he was impressed by Olympic athletes’ dedication to their sport in the face of injury.

“They’ve been working sometimes four, eight or sometimes even 16 years toward this one event, this one day,” he said. “They are very committed, and even if they’re injured, they’re going to compete. They’re going to try. Some of them are pretty tough too — not a lot of complaining. It’s interesting working with people like that because their tolerance of pain may be different [and] their expectations are very different too. It’s not so much that they want to have the injury dealt with. They want to get patched up to go back and compete.”

Doucet said his team also struggled with special medical circumstances of Olympic athletes.

He explained that since athletes are so fit, their vital signs are often different from the average patient, making it difficult to diagnose the extent of an injury and complicating treatment. In addition, he said that athletes could take only certain drugs because so many of them improve performance.

“When you give any type of medication that you normally give, you have to find out whether or not it’s one of the restricted medications,” he said. “A lot of things could potentially enhance performance, so a lot of things are banned.”

The unpredictability of the games created extra stress for the volunteers. For instance, 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died on Feb. 12 — Doucet’s first day on the job.

“It kind of focused things for us,” Doucet said. “We knew it was possible, but it was definitely a surprise that it happened.”

Doucet said the unit could potentially open doors for similar types of hospitals in the United States.

“It showed that it is possible to set up a temporary facility that can give high quality care,” he said. “One thing we’ve often talked about in California is, ‘How do you set an alternate site up?’ It showed that we can actually do this.”

Overall, Doucet said the experience was fulfilling.

“It was a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” he said. “I would highly recommend it to any one.”

Readers can contact Neda Salamat at [email protected].

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