Monday, March 31, 2014

Sea Rescue: Information for Writers with Nickey Myburgh

Fiona- Hello friends. 
     Have I got a treat for
     you today. I want 
     you to meet a woman
     who is a true hero.
     She lives the life 
     that our best heroines
     live - as a matter of
     fact, if I were
     funded, I would jump
     on a plane and fly to
     the Wild Coast
     where Nickey 
     lives and write her story.
     Nickey, will you start by 
     telling us a little bit about where you live and about you?

Nickey - I am known as either Nickey or
      Monique. I am originally from
      Johannesburg, South Africa where I worked
      as a nurse and then joined as emergency
      service technician (ALS).  My hubby is the
      Traffic Police Chief here. We both
      worked in Johannesburg and Soweto for
      many years. Due to security reasons, I keep
      my writing separate from my work and
      therefore use a pseudonym. 

     I am presently working and living in the Transkei, Wild Coast.
     The Wild Coast used to be the former Transkei. The homeland
     was previously governed separate from South Africa. It is a
     unique and often volatile area. Here I have my own company. 
     I train students and also work as EMT and NSRI (National Sea
     Rescue Institute) sea and shore crew member.

Fiona - Today, we are going to be talking about sea rescue, and you
      are going to be taking us through some of the ways that this 
      differs from land rescue. Can you start at the beginning? Where 
      are you when the call for help goes out?

Nickey - We are all volunteers. This is the largest stretch of coast
      line, app 200km. Usually, when we get a call it is at the most
      inappropriate time - that is always the case. People either
      contact the base station using radio or a mobile often from the
      beach area. I am sure by now you know we are infamous for
      our shark attacks.

Fiona - Yipes! Have you responded to a shark attack?

Nickey - Yes, twice. On Saturday, it was pretty vicious and again
      fatal. Even if we were at scene at that very moment we could
      not have done anything. He was in waist-deep water when the
      shark grabbed him in front of his wife and friends. A tourist
      from Austria. Apparently, the shark actually lifted him out of
      the water. He kept fighting as it dragged him into deeper waters.

Fiona - And the victims die from blood loss? From an artery being
      severed? Or shock?

Nickey - Blood loss. In this case he was amputated from waist
      down. Usually the shark returns. It was not a single bite wound.

Fiona - ARGH! In my mind, they tasted you and let go because
      humans aren't their regular food. If it were to happen to one of
      our characters, what could someone who saw it happen do to
      prevent the death?

Nickey - If at all possible, stop the bleeding and treat for shock.
      Over here, the sharks return and finish the job. I swam here
      often until the first call. The reality of it is very brutal, and it
      changed my perception completely.

Fiona - Amputation 
     from the waist down
     can't be saved. That
     is gruesome. How do
     you handle things
     like that? Some 
     people are
     always okay with it, 
     some just shove it
     down, others grow 
     thick skin - what is the case for you?

Nickey - I manage it very well. My husband and I worked together
      in Johannesburg and Soweto for a long time so the violence is
      nothing new.We are a classic case of a cop married to a medic,
      so we both discuss things. I tend to go over
      events in my mind, now that I am older, and question my
      judgement. I also talk with the lifesavers and other medics
      because they are often very alone in what they feel.

     We do not receive support in that area, so we discuss things
     informally. My hubby and I meet with the crews and just talk
     (debrief). It is getting harder. I find that child victims are the

Fiona - Are children a large part of those you rescue? What types
      of accidents befall them?

Nickey - Yes. Rogue waves are a big problem and motor vehicle
      collisions. We do not have barriers next to our roads, and it is a
      regular thing for a vehicle to roll down the embankment and end
      up in the river (Umzimvubu).

Fiona - So what do you do when you get that call - is the water
     deep enough that these are usually recovery rather than rescue

Nickey - We have wet-suits and gear. Part of the ritual is getting
      dressed in motion.

     We treat everything predominantly as a rescue until we are sure
      of the actual situation. It is very difficult when the community
      contact us for help because they do not provide adequate
      information. Even on scene, they are sometimes so confused
      that they will refuse to say how many people were in the
      vehicle or on the boat.

Fiona - So you don't know if you've accounted for everyone? That's

Nickey - Yes, you have to look for clues. Sometimes there are
      childrens' clothing but no child. We are also dealing with people
      who are not very trusting of authority, so you have to keep a
      kind and authoritative posture, not show your urgency and
      continue to search.The most important thing is to
      compartmentalize what you feel. Put it away and focus on your
      team and the information you have. Situational awareness is

Launching site

Nickey - 
 If possible, the vessel will stop right in front of our place,
    and I  get in from where we do a launch from the Umzimvubu 
    into the sea. That is a very tricky skill; only a handful of skippers
   can master.

Fiona - Is the water treacherous there. What requires the skill?

Nickey - When you are in the vessel you keep an eye open for the
     waves to assist the skipper. Also, you look out for any
     debris. Unfortunately, people usually do not wear clothing that
     are very visible, so it is amazingly difficult to actually find a 
     person or even a yacht.

     One of the many reasons for the stormy seas are the sudden
     drop of the continental shelf which not only powers the waves
     but can cause the opposite, a sudden drop or hole in the ocean.

     When you are out there it is an exquisite experience. When
     steering the vessel the skipper often faces into the wave with
     just the right amount of power otherwise it becomes airborne,
     and you end up flying off the crest with a tremendous force.
     In the boat, you feel every movement in your back and bones.
     It is exhilarating. You smell and taste salt in your bone marrow. 

     The rougher the ocean, the scarier and stronger the adrenaline 
     rush. When in rough seas, it is surprisingly difficult to see a
     person in the ocean or even a capsized boat. This is even more
     true if they are not wearing reflective life jackets, or if the hull
     of the boat is white or blue.  

     Our calls are very diverse. It could be anything really; our unit
     was involved in the rescue of the passengers of the Oceanos in
     1991. Part of our training includes being airlifted from a boat by
     a helicopter, or placing a patient in the rescue basket or harness
     for airlift, retrieving a patient from the water, providing
     emergency medical treatment and collecting a patient from
     another vessel if the conditions are not favorable for a helicopter
     rescue. We regularly have to tow a defective vessel to safety.
     The helicopter we use as training is a BK 117 Army 'copter'. We
     don't jump from it anymore unless we really have to and then
     only if it is lower than 8 meters

Fiona - Why have you stopped 
    jumping? What injuries were
    the rescuers sustaining?

Nickey - The jumping causes an
    immense amount of sudden
    stress on your spine if you're
    posture is incorrect. It can be
    very dangerous and is
    unpredictable. Think of the
    same concept that happens
    during concussion, the last
    thing you need is a team
    member with a serious head or
    neck injury, disorientation,
    paralysis and so forth.

Fiona - Yes - that's what I would suppose. So once you're in the
    water, would you ascend by harness?

Nickey - Yes, the harness is the same type of material as a seat-
     belt and fits around your shoulders and between your legs. 
     You cross your arms in front of you. The cable of the helicopter
     must touch the vessel or even the water first so that there is a
     static release. Otherwise it can give you a nasty jolt.

Fiona - A very cool detail! How does the turbulence of the ocean
     water impact your patient care on the way to an emergency

Nickey - It is an experience because it is wet and noisy, and oh yes
      very slippery. It is very difficult to put up a line (IV) and even
      listening to the lungs and heart (taking vitals) is challenging.

Fiona - I hadn't thought of that - yes!

Nickey - We take our vitals manually, with a BP cuff and stet. 
     I use other senses, for example feeling the patients skin,
     pulse, that tells me a lot about the rhythm of the heart and its
     strength. I look at the pupil size, and count the respirations.

Fiona - Are there other issues that we might not have thought to
     include in our plot lines?

Nickey - When you move into a wave crest, the vessel becomes
      airborne so do you and the patient. It takes balance,
      coordination, and a sense of humor to do this. One of the
      biggest problems is hypothermia. 

      In June and July, we have the
      sardine run. It is winter and the water temp is about 15 degrees
      C. (59F) We have schools of sardines with dolphin pods of up
      to 20,000 dolphins hunting, also whales and sharks.
Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax)
Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     This is the time
     when divers come
     down as well as film
     crew. Free diving -
     no cages. You have
     to watch out for the
     sea life. 

      It is incredible to
      actually see a 
      whale up close, but
      you should never be closer than 100 m. 
     They are wild. 

Fiona - Holy moly! How hard would it be to get, say a shark victim
      with and leg amputation to a hospital?

Nickey - It all depends on resource availability. If we can get a
      helicopter, then it might be anything up to an hour. We stabilise
      as best as possible on sea, before coming in through the ways.
      Then if there is an ambulance, which is rare, we will stay with
      the patient for the 15 minute drive to the clinic. Our clinic is not
      an ER or hospital, so I will get out and carry on working with
      the sisters over there.

Fiona - No kidding - kuddos! for even trying. How long is the 
     average trip to land/hospital? What is the survival rate if rescued
     at sea?

Nickey - You must take into account that this is a very rural area.
     So even with a shark attack victim, it can still take up to 15
     minutes, and that is only after we have reached land.

Fiona - Before I forget - and I am cringing as I type this - can you
     tell me about your favorite scar?

Nickey - Oh, no sharks A small stab wound on my left shin.

Fiona - And with all of that going on, you write prolifically across
     genre. Tell me about your writing, is it an escape from your
     everyday heroism or do you use your work to inform your

Nickey - My writing used to be my outlet, but as I became more
      involved, I started to write academically. That is actually a
      coping mechanism. I have recently started to write from my
      own experiences and feelings. It is very honest and is a new experience.

     Of everything I had written,
 the teaching manual to Sangomas 
     on how to recognize emergencies and refer them for appropriate
     assistance means the most. I think that it is possible to prevent a
     lot of the pain and hurt if we start at the source. So I teach
     Sangomas how to interpret actual signs and symptoms. It is a
      very interesting journey.

Fiona - I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with Sangomas - can you tell
      me a little and what their situation is?
Sangoma in fur and leather
Sangoma in fur and leather (Photo credit: K. Kendall)

Nickey - They are Traditional
     Healers, they visit the Transkei to
     perform rituals and help the sick
     in the community using herbs and

Nickey - The sea is of great
       significance to them because it is
       the place of their ancestors.
       Sometimes muti is herbs, but it
       can be a concoction of anything.
       You will get a better idea if you
       surf muti killings.

Fiona - I just Googled muti-killings and am horrified. 
     I had no idea. We'll have to leave that discussion
     for another article.

Thank you so much Nickey for visiting with us today. I am so looking forward to your coming back to tell us more about your efforts to teach medicine to the healers in your area. You are, as I said at the beginning of this article, an incredible heroine. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. This is one brave lady that will go to the extreme to help anybody and everybody I look up to her and salute her in everything she does because she does it with her heart filled with compassion and love she is indeed a hero...... And my hero as well

  2. What an incredible woman, and the work she does is so inspiring. Thanks Fiona for introducing us to Nickey.