Stingray attack prompts call for change about who can give pain relief to patients at sea
Chris Black said he suffered excruciating pain when his foot was impaled by a stingray barb. (Supplied: Todd Pender)
A stingray attack victim suffered hours of pain because a marine rescue service was not allowed to give him pain relief and volunteer ambulance officers were not allowed to board rescue boats.
Commercial fisherman Chris Black, 48, was working in waters off Esperance in Western Australia’s south, when he says a stingray barb impaled his foot, causing “excruciating” pain.
“My head was pounding and once I started feeling the poison go up in my lymph glands, I knew I was in trouble,” he said.
“It [endure the pain] was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
The stingray barb was removed from Chris Black’s foot at Esperance Hospital. (Supplied: Chris Black)
The Esperance Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMRS) had requested a paramedic to accompany them on the one-hour trip to Mr Black’s boat, but was told the town’s only career paramedic was unavailable.
A St John Ambulance spokesperson said because volunteer ambulance officers were not trained to give medical care on board boats in open water or aircraft, they were not able to help the patient until he reached shore.
“St John has expertise in the provision of land-based pre-hospital care and land-based patient transport,” the spokesperson said.
“Once on land, our crew was able to deliver two forms of pain relief to the patient, including a ketamine product.”
A call for change
The lack of available paramedics left the Esperance VMRS to take the victim back to shore without providing any pain relief.
The return trip took two hours due to worsening sea conditions, leaving Mr Black in pain for three hours before he received pain relief onshore.
Commander Glenn Churchland said VMRS personnel were trained in first-aid but were not allowed to administer pain medication.
“We did try to give [the victim] sea sickness tablets as a placebo which they tell me didn’t work. He was still in a great deal of pain,” he said.
Mr Churchland said the protocols should be changed to allow volunteer ambulance officers to board rescue boats in certain circumstances.
“I have the horrible fear that if some stage we come across this again and a life is in the balance, then it could turn out really nasty,” he said.
“That is going to prove terrible for both organisations.”
But Department of Fire and Emergency Services acting assistant commissioner Craig Waters said a rescue helicopter could be used in critical situations.
“In the event of a life-threatening situation in Esperance and depending upon availability, the RAC Rescue helicopter may be deployed from Bunbury,” he said.
“On board the helicopter is a critical care paramedic who can winch down onto a vessel and provide immediate medical assistance.”
When asked how long it would take a rescue helicopter to arrive in Esperance from Bunbury, the ABC was told about two-and-a-half hours.
Mr Black said his case should be used to push for change.
“The Government needs to look into this and actually make some ruling where volunteer paramedics are allowed on boats, just to allow better care of the patient,” he said.
“[My case] is only mild compared to some of the instances I’ve seen at sea.”
Mr Black said if changes could not be made to allow volunteer ambulance officers on boats, he believed the VMRS should obtain qualifications to administer pain relief.
The WA Emergency Services Minister was contacted for comment.