IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HUT? GLOBE-TROTTING PHYSICIAN HAS PROVEN TO BE A LIFESAVER FOR TV'S REALITY PARTICIPANTS.
``Any day can be a bad day in any part of the world,'' says emergency medicine specialist Dr. Adrian Cohen. He should know. The Australian doctor informally known as ``Dr. Ado'' has been all over the world and seen many people experience some pretty rotten days.
Cohen's job, and the job of his medical risk management team, Immediate Assistants, is to make sure a bad day doesn't get worse. When you're the medical director to such physically punishing shows as Mark Burnett's ``Survivor'' and ``Eco Challenge,'' people are always finding ways to test you.
Litany of catastrophes
Malaria, anybody? Frostbite, dehydration, heart attacks, near drownings and any number of broken bones? How about leeches exploring places on your anatomy that you don't want to think about?
In Borneo, ``Eco-Challenge'' biker David Laux punctured a lung and nearly died after impaling himself on a tree branch. Last season, Michael Skupin's tenure on ``Survivor: The Australian Outback'' ended abruptly when he fell into a fire and suffered severe hand burns. Cohen treated both cases, even staying with Skupin for the 48 hours following his accident to ensure he got proper care.
To date, there have been no fatalities on an IA doctor's watch, says Cohen, who knocks on wood as he says it. The perfect streak can't last forever, he knows. In his line of work, calamity is the nature of the beast.
``We had a competitor in Patagonia who slipped off the top of a mountain and slid 300 feet before dislocating an elbow and stopping herself,'' says Cohen during an interview in comparatively tame Santa Monica. ``If she had kept going, she would have gone straight off the edge of a 1,000-foot plunge. It surprises me we don't have more injuries in a race like that.''
Of course, program executives would argue the reason more injuries don't take place is precisely because Cohen and his team do their jobs so well. Physical exams are conducted, courses are scoped out. Circumstances may force Cohen to rappel out of a helicopter or trek on foot into dense jungle and carry someone to ground transportation, but he will leave nothing to chance.
``We're in the middle of nowhere, we document everything, and we pride ourselves on giving people information they can use,'' he says. ``It's the six-P principle: 'Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.' ''
All things being equal, that probably wouldn't make for a bad epitaph.
It's a hazy early summer's day in Santa Monica and an off-duty Cohen is dressed casually. ``Survivor: Africa,'' which premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on CBS, is done, and ``S4'' is in development. He's in L.A. to consult with the producers of ``MedQuest'' a new half-hour program on the mysteries of the medical world that Cohen will host. (The show premieres in November on a station yet to be determined.)
In addition to his hosting duties, Cohen will offer two tips per segment. Series executive producer Robert Sacco figures the media-savvy emergency doctor will be a perfect fit.
``He's great-looking, he's great on camera, he's got a lot of personality,'' said Sacco, president of Brown Cow Communications, says of Cohen. ``And he's a doctor.''
As with ``Survivor'' and ``Eco Challenge,'' ``MedQuest'' will take Cohen globe-trotting once again, this time to research segments about cell-phone brain cancer, body piercing and flesh-eating bacteria, among other topics. By now, needless to say, he's used to airplanes.
Home, when he gets there, is Australia, where a girlfriend, son and cat see Cohen during downtime between assignments. Then he's off again to the wilds of wherever to scope courses, perform physicals and set up his medical team.
And, as Cohen tells it, this routine sure beats patrolling the halls of a hospital emergency room. He worked for three years at such places as Prince of Wales, Prince Henry, Royal North Shore and Bega District hospitals. ``Basically I got sick of waiting for people to come into the hospital all nicely packaged up but two to three hours after the injury,'' says Cohen.
``I enjoy being on the scene, being able to do the most at the early stage. There's an axiom in trauma medicine called 'the golden hour,' an equation that shows the longer it takes you to get to someone, the greater the chance of their succumbing. And it's not just getting there. It's getting there and instituting advanced life-support care.''
For four years, Cohen was the chief medical officer on the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service out of Sydney - a job that landed him smack in the middle of golden hour and prepared him for the type of challenges that ``Survivor'' and ``Eco-Challenge'' would eventually present.
Helicopters can transport someone to an out-of-the-way place, but that doesn't make a doctor's job a cakewalk. Where in the United States, a firefighter or paramedic may be the first to arrive at the scene of an accident, in Australia, doctors and paramedics get there first, says Cohen. And they come by air, land or sea, sometimes rappelling out of a helicopter or being winched to the sight of an accident if that's the most direct route.
IA employs some two dozen doctors, 60 paramedics and 20 nurses, all of whom - according to Cohen - subscribe to the ``getting there is half the fun'' approach to medical treatment.
``I enjoy it, but there are groups of people who don't. Those doctors stay in emergency rooms of hospitals and they do a very good job, but they choose not to add that extra dimension,'' says Cohen. ``You can't focus on the journey, so when you have to get to somebody by putting a helicopter in the water, you can't be panicking thinking about your physical surrounding and what gear you have on. That has to become second nature.''
The tricks of his trade are hardly secret. In Australia, IA runs a training center for lifeguards and paramedics - medical workers who plan to get their hands dirty. Cohen is also the author of ``Necksafe: A Guidebook for the Management of Acute Spinal Injuries.''
If you're part of Cohen's team, when disaster strikes, don't expect ambulances or fully stocked hospitals to be in close proximity. In Australia, one Eco-Challenger had to be evacuated after suffering an incapacitating bout of encephalitis. But because the call went out at night, flying in by helicopter wasn't an option. Cohen's crew had to go in on foot and haul the patient out on a stretcher.
Had that been the case with David Laux, when he had his encounter with a tree branch, the outcome might have been different. Fortunately, Cohen says, Laux was two miles from base camp at the time of the accident. Cohen got to him in 10 minutes, put in a chest tube and performed emergency resuscitation, and got him back to the field hospital.
``If he had been an hour away up the jungle trail, if the radios hadn't worked, we'd be doing the obituary,'' says Cohen.
Nearly a year after his accident, Michael Skupin still receives e-mails from Cohen, asking him about the recuperation of his severely burned hand. Skupin might find Cohen's continued interest surprising, had he not experienced Cohen's dedicated response to the accident.
``He stayed with me for about 48 hours on almost no sleep and nothing to eat. He wouldn't leave until he was 100 percent certain that every single possibility had been covered.'' said Skupin, who lives in Michigan. ``I really believe that ('Survivor' executive producer) Mark Burnett told him to 'make sure Mike is taken care of,' but I don't believe to this extreme.''
Cohen patched Skupin up and accompanied him to the nearest hospital. When doctors recommended that Skupin be transferred to a burn center in Brisbane, Cohen insisted on going along, refusing to let Skupin go alone when the plane didn't have sufficient weight capacity to take Cohen along. The following day, Skupin and Cohen traveled via private jet to Brisbane.
At Royal Brisbane Hospital, Cohen consulted with every doctor and nurse who examined Skupin. ``Nobody argued with him. Nobody accused him of putting his nose in,'' said Skupin. ``Here I am in a foreign country, already a little apprehensive about being treated for an injury.
``I really appreciated what he did. I will never forget it. He's in medicine for the right reasons.''
(1 -- cover -- color) MEDICINE MAN
Dr. Adrian Cohen goes to the ends of the earth - literally - to make sure reality-show contestants are survivors
Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer
(2) Cohen, right, and rescue specialist Clay Allison aid ``Eco-Challenge'' contestant Cammi Crampton, who injured her neck while mountain biking.
(3) Dr. Adrian Cohen, the physician on call for ``Eco-Challenge'' and ``Survivor,'' attends to his duties last year in Malaysia.
Courtesy of Arkhaven/Blue Pixel
(4) 'When you have to get to somebody by putting a helicopter in the water, you can't be panicking thinking about your physical surrounding and what gear you have on. That has to become second nature.'
Dr. Adrian Cohen
on emergency care in the wild
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. Life|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 8, 2001|
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