John Davies: Getting ready for Rio

As the Olympic Games approach, I’m beginning to make preparations. I’m going there!

I got the bug at London 2012. They asked the public to volunteer because no games can happen unless thousands of people give their time and expertise. Staff are appointed in all trades and professions that are needed for such a mega event and paid, but the games could not happen unless people did the grunt work for nothing. Less than nothing really, because the games do not pay volunteers’ expenses (except for daily travel for their shift and a meal while on shift) and do not provide accommodation. Thousands of the 75 000 London “Gamesmakers” slept on the floors and sofas of friends of friends, stayed with remote family relations, and camped on sports grounds all around the city.

So why volunteer? It’s not the uniform that is provided, it’s because of the games—the biggest, the best, the greatest show on Earth, where people display what humans are ultimately capable of. When you include the Paralympians, it’s what super humans can do too. But it’s more than just a spectator experience, it’s a physical one too. When there are 80 000 people in only six acres of space, all cheering, it’s an enormous noise, but it’s more than that. It has a visceral effect; you feel uplifted, even if you are not a competitor.

This time I shall be a Voluntario. And I shall be serving again in a field of play recovery (FoPR) team—this time at the Olympic Stadium itself. If the arrangements in Rio are similar to London, this means that two or three of the five to seven members of the FoPR team will share places in front of the front row of seats—on the park itself. You cannot buy a seat at the Olympics as close to the action as that.

The role of the FoPR team is to provide immediate medical management for anyone on the field of play. From a dislocated shoulder to a javelin through the chest, we are to run out and take the casualty off with the minimum of delay. And they mean “minimum”; during the London games we were warned that there should be “no Muambas”—the footballer who collapsed during a Premier League match as the result of undiagnosed long QT syndrome.

I hope, and expect, that the Rio FoPR team will be as good and as well equipped as we were in London. That team comprised doctors and nurses who worked in critical care; we were all thoroughly versed in the most up to date resuscitation pathways and techniques—and equipped for them as well. We had brand new kit—trolleys; spinal boards; haversacks full of drugs, fluids, monitors, and a defibrillator—all packaged so that we could rush out in a moment.

In fact, I have to admit that the elite athletes of the games didn’t need our attention; on the rare occasion of an injury, they get immediate support from their team medics. It’s the other members of the “Olympic Family”—the national team trainers, coaches, and managers; the judges and employees of the games on the field of play; and the officials of the International Olympic Committee—who are more likely to need our help.

So how am I preparing for the games? I’ve been immunised against a number of diseases that I have never seen, including rabies. The more communicable viruses, thanks to mosquitoes, from chikungunya fever to Zika, as yet have no vaccines. Although there is a dengue fever vaccine available, it’s not available in the UK, so I might enquire in Brazil. And I’ve stocked up on insect repellent, which is well over 20% DEET, and a permethrin spray to treat my clothing.

So, Bom dia, amigos. Veja-o do Rio!

John Davies is a consultant anaesthetist in Lancaster, who takes part in motorsport as a competitor and as a rally doctor.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and I have no financial or other competing interest in the Olympic Games.