You can never have too much medical kit

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 05 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:732
  1. Claire Davies, general practitioner flexible careers scheme (caldavies2001{at}
  1. London Fields Medical Centre, Stoke Newington, London

    Buying a car for less than £100 and then driving it across the Sahara was never going to be straightforward. We prepared our 1981 Renault 18 for every eventuality—a rack of spares, extensive toolkit, and some aluminium sand ladders for when we inevitably got stuck. My medical kit was small but, I thought, comprehensive. I was armed with every known defence against malaria as well as a raft of dressings in case we crashed. I imagined myself plucking people from the jaws of death from such things as an anaphylactic reaction to the bite of the tsetse fly, leaving the “car” stuff to the males in our group.

    In southern Morocco our “road” consisted of a powdery dirt track snaking through valleys of red stone dotted with kasbahs. We were driving along the edge of a six metre drop when the car went into a skid. The dust churned upwards as if someone had shaken a huge tin of face powder into the air. The brakes chose this moment to fail. It transpired that we could get them to work only by repeatedly pumping the pedal to raise the pressure within the system. We crept along for the next 12 km of track, the brakes hissing at each hairpin bend.

    At the main road, we stopped to have a look. The brakes still had plenty of fluid, and so we concluded there must be air in the system—but we had nothing to drain it with. I relinquished my only set for giving intravenous fluids, which provided just the required gauge of tubing to release the air. The transparency of the tubing allowed us to monitor the bubbles coming through.

    Apart from this, my kit found use off the shores of Mauritania with a fishing hook improvised from an orange needle (we didn't catch anything). Also, a strip of paracetamol (acetaminophen) lifted the spirits of even the most unsmiling Senegalese policemen, who would then wave us on our way. We never got to use our sand ladders—apart from the night we cooked a goat, when they made ideal campfire grills.


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