City Woman: Become a pain-free casualtyBy Leigh Mencarini
June 14, 2010
A team of volunteers in Reading have been helping train medical and emergency professionals since 1946. They show Leigh Mencarini what they can do
I’m the sort of person who winces watching Holby City. Ridiculous, I know, but the medical drama has left me cowering behind a cushion on more than one occasion.
So the thought of spending a Friday evening with a group of ‘casualties’ was a little unnerving to say the least.
If you’ve not heard of the Casualties Union before, allow me to explain. They are trained volunteers who simulate injuries and medical conditions for first aid training, and emergency and rescue scenarios.
While dressing up as an injured person might not be everyone’s cup of tea as a hobby, it provides valuable experience for the people we rely on in emergencies.
Rodney Hayward, from Tilehurst, has been a member of St John Ambulance for 47 years. He became involved with the union having understood the need for “bodies to work on”.
“Of all the things I’ve seen in real life, this is as true to life,” the 68-year-old says.
“It’s far better to have someone respond correctly in a medical situation than having to rely on their imagination, especially when you’re training A&E doctors.”
The Casualties Union, which operates as a charity, was founded in 1942 so has had plenty of practice in making injuries look real.
The Reading branch, formed in 1946, has around a dozen or so members who portray a range of injuries, from the minor – a split fingernail, a nasty cut – to the more extreme, such as the ‘car bumper break’ – a very common fracture of the shin.
There’s plenty of creativity among the group, in trauma acting through to developing make-up techniques.
Much of the materials used to create the injuries come from the kitchen cupboard. Blood, for instance, is made of custard powder, golden syrup and food colouring, while swollen skin is created with flour, salt, oil and different food colourings for skin tones.
“We started off using Plasticine but as time goes on members themselves come up with ideas, which are shared with other branches,” says senior instructor Brett Murden, who created the car bumper break.
He said make-up techniques are much more advanced now and materials are lighter and safer on the skin. For instance, blisters that were once mimicked by petroleum jelly are now made from silicon gel as it responds more realistically to touch.
“Everything is freshly prepared and is never produced twice,” he adds.
“It means the medics can practise stitching as well.”
It’s not just broken bones, nasty gashes or chemical burns the team learn to master, either.
The group also provide bodies for mortuary training, for scenarios involving police and firefighters.
“Imagine a plane crash on a market, think of the number of people there, the number of injuries and those killed,” Rodney explains.
“The police have to come in and identify those people, so we go along as dead bodies. We have to get our breathing right down and make our bodies respond as a corpse would.”
They’ve been in all kinds of scenarios – accidents on the London Underground, simulated fires – and the service they provide amounts to so much more than clever make-up. It’s the full package, mental and physical trauma.
“Most people look at it as a hobby, although obviously it’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” adds Brett.
“But when we’re in the scenario we have to be completely professional.”
It’s no surprise, for while the make-up seems great fun, there’s a more serious element to this group’s work – as Rodney sums up.
“How many people have we helped train that have gone on to save someone’s life?”