A Personal Account
Mexico is one of the worlds most violent countries with one of the highest murder rates in the world; 12,903 narcotics-related homicides in the first nine months of 2011 alone. While most of those killed in narcotics-related violence have been members of gangs, innocent persons have also been caught up in the violence and killed. So what was I doing hanging outside a Mexican prison riot waiting for it to kick-off in the blaring sun surrounded by heavily armed, ill-tempered Policeman and armed only with some sunscreen and a smile?
Basically, trying to get myself a job in CIose Protection. I had been trying to diversify my skill set and make myself more employable in the CP world. I was a civilian, non-military and therefore with no combat experience and definitely no combat medical experience. How was I going to compete with guys and girls that had just come back from war zones and had experience of dealing with real and life-threatening trauma? I had all the same qualifications as them and exceeded the minimum requirements being asked. But I realised very quickly that no employer is going to choose an inexperienced medic over an experienced one, any day of the year. I, therefore, had to go out and get involved. Now the obvious option was to join the TA and probably still is, but I found another route.
In just under a month I had been involved in car accidents, stabbings, assaults and numerous emergency incidents, and this was as a British civilian. I was working as a volunteer paramedic and emergency medical technician for the Red and Green Cross’s. I had attended over a period of a few weeks more incidents and accidents than I could have ever seen in a lifetime as a civilian. It wasn’t just the Gucci trauma cases either, I had personally been involved in helping with heart attacks, drug overdoses, delivering babies and stitching numerous people up. Within just a few weeks I had developed into a more confident and capable medic gaining important experience.
I had not been so confident a few weeks earlier, not knowing what to expect, was I walking into a war zone? What were the Mexico risk factors I needed to understand? I was heading to Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and knew the situation in the North of Mexico with the Border of the USA was critical, murders and gang violence were endemic but was it going to be the same where I was heading, hundreds of miles South and West?
The funny thing was I wanted there to be some violence, I wanted there to be emergencies and medical trauma, why? I needed the experience for one, but it was also very simply that dark desire that nearly all security service personnel or armed forces professionals probably feel. That desire to be part of an incident, they want something to happen so they can experience the real thing, so they can practice in reality what they have been learning. It is that person’s raison d’etre, their purpose of being.
The first day, I arrived and was immediately met by a local guy who drove me to a house and introduced me to the family that I was going to live with for the month I was in-country. It was a relatively young couple and we were right bang slap in the middle of the local population and speaking Spanish mixed with English (my English, their Spanish) from the start. I had not learnt any Spanish before signing up to the programme and had only a couple of weeks to learn from some Rosetta Stone and Michel Thomas CDs and now had the ‘basics’ and I’m glad I put the time in as it was surprising from very early on how many people did not speak English.
The basics soon developed and after a few days of one to one tutoring and speaking with the family, doctors, and nurses I was able to understand critical words and hold a basic conversation. I had to, as the day after arriving I was in the hospital Accident and emergency ward and was being introduced to the head doctor and then the nurses, ‘OK let’s get you started’ he said and passed me onto the nurses. Most of whom eyed me suspiciously as a completely unknown entity. Was I going to butcher their poor and defenseless patients or could they use me to their advantage and half their overstretched workload? ‘Do you know how to suture?’ they asked. ‘No not really’ I replied, so they showed me once or twice and then the rest of the day I sutured peoples cuts and wounds, periodically stopping to take peoples vitals (blood pressures, pulse etc). Then day two I cannulated everyone, stopping only to talk to the nurses and paramedics, learning things from them and forming a few bonds. The better they know and like you, the more they will let you get involved I thought.
Within a few days I was getting involved with more serious cases, initially observing, then assisting doctors dealing with fractures, dislocations, chest trauma, surgeries and it was all a consistent build up and at a pace that worked well. If I wanted to spend every hour of the day at the hospital then that was fine, but if I was tired, wanted a break or fancied doing something else I could leave and come back whenever. Within two weeks I had persuaded the ambulance paramedics to take me out and that’s where the fun really started for me.
The last two weeks then went in a blink of an eye, a flurry of incidents and accidents. The paramedics loved having someone different to talk to and teach and it became very apparent from early on that they had very little to work with equipment wise. One ambulance had oxygen, another didn’t, and no one had an AED. Further, into my time I changed to another ambulance station and their ambulances were perfectly equipped so it was literally a case of local funding and station management. For a beginner, it was perfect as I could get stuck in and didn’t have to worry too much about complicated equipment and could get hands-on and involved.
The majority of our call-outs were Road Traffic Crashes (RTC’s), though gang and drug violence were always rearing its head and providing plenty of work for us. Guadalajara is comparatively safe compared to the Northern areas of Chihuahua and the border towns where drug gangs fight gun battles between themselves and the police daily. Though as a large city there was never a shortage of incidents.
After just a month I left the country a more rounded, confident and skillful medic. I had some amazing experiences, met and worked with some unique and fantastic people and even managed to have a few good nights out. Did the experience get me a job? No, in my opinion, it played a part in helping me stand out from the competition. But it also helped me become more confident in my own abilities as a medic. I know that if something were to happen I could deal with it effectively and to the best of my abilities and I don’t think I could have said that after just completing my courses. It bolstered my CV and made me more attractive to potential employers no doubt, but without the right qualifications, no one would have considered me.
In the close protection industry, it is vital to get every opportunity you can to stand out from the competition and get your foot in the door. That is why I have now set up a company to get people out there to experience what I did, to get hands-on medical experience and deal with real-life trauma. We now have the ability to send medics throughout Mexico and to some of the areas previously considered too dangerous. The ability to deal with gunshot wounds, ballistic trauma, and other serious medical emergencies is now available to all medics, not just those in war zones.
Having the knowledge is one thing, being able to use it in real life is another, but being able to say you have done both can set you apart from the competition.