My little black bag that grew

I learned to find every drug, every medical device, every piece of equipment by feel

When I completed my intern year, I got unrestricted registration that allowed me to practise medicine outside hospital. I sent off the form and in return I obtained my prescription pads.

When I joined the Family Medicine Programme and worked in a general practice with the magnificent Dr Iain Farragher in McKinnon, Melbourne I got access to Doctor’s Bag Supplies. On my delayed overseas honeymoon I had bought a beautiful Italian leather briefcase so I put them in it - it was too small and scratched easily.

I bought two bags next - a shaving bag for my diagnostic set and a tough shelled plastic briefcase for the drugs. That leather briefcase is beside me as I write.
As time passed, I started coming across a car accident or two so I built up my kit. I had done a lot of time in casualty departments, as they were then called, and lots of anaesthetics and O&G so I knew what to get.

For home visits, I carried my diagnostic kit, in its shaving bag, in the tough shelled black briefcase with all the necessary paperwork. It was great for fending off barking, biting dogs especially those little bitzers (mongrels that had bits of this breed and bits of others) that were all teeth and fur.
For my drug kit number three, I purchased a large fishing tackle box.

I moved to the town I still live in. It was without an ambulance service for two years so we doctors were first responders. We saw it all. The nearest ambulance was usually 30 minutes away even with lights and sirens - that can be an awfully long time. I had joined the SES within four weeks of my arrival - we were busy.

My kit now had:

  • Tough shelled black briefcase with diagnostic kit
  • Large tackle box for drugs, syringes, needles, IV cannulas and NATO triage cards
  • Air viva with Guedel Airways paediatric to adult Magill’s forceps and manual aspirator
  • Oxy Viva with suction apparatus, nebuliser and face masks
  • Spare box with IV giving sets and IV fluids, endotracheal tubes, laryngoscope with intubation kit and intercostal drain tubes with Heimlich valves, tracheotomy kit and venous cut down kit
  • SES box with uniform, boots, hard hat, torches, PPE, flares, drinking water, spare energy bars, a hand saw to cut metal and wood, an axe and prise lever
  • Both my car and my wife’s vehicle had CB radios

It might seem excessive now but I used each and every one of those pieces of equipment either in the surgery, at the roadside, on home visits or SES call outs.

I earned the irreverent title of a Jonah and later still that of a S*** Magnet.

I took a small kit wherever I was licensed to use it and my wife used to mention how much room it took up in the cars. One day, we were over an hour from anywhere when she had her first attack of renal colic. She never mentioned the kit again.

I learned to find every drug, every medical device, every piece of equipment by feel - in an incident I had to be as efficient as possible. Seconds were vital. After every incident, I would check my gear, make sure everything was in date, intact and in its place. I would replace what had been used. If I needed a new piece of gear, I would get it.

In other places and many different publications, I have written about my 13 years with SES, the content and uses of emergency kits, of the over 100 incidents I attend on the roads, on anaphylaxis, asthma management and alluded to my time as an Area Medical Coordinator/ Commander for Medical Displan.

Why did I do all this? Because I could, because I was needed and because I achieved something.

Oh, I did a lot of other stuff as well but those are stories for another day.

Now I still have my kit but it is a lot more compact and rarely used.

Associate Prof Chris Hogan

July 2021