It has been 2 months now since Olivier has had an accident during the start of the first task in PWC Mina Clavero, Argentina.
Too many of the problems that occurred after that sad split second should not have had and the purpose of this communication is to help preventing them to happen again.
Olivier received warm support from individuals: guys like Joël (or Michaël in Mexico) will always do their best to land close to you in order to bring you first aid; guys like Martin or Edu will always be at your side with all their heart; guys like Didier or Christophe will push their way for you even when remote.
The problem lies with the organizations these guys are member of, and more precisely with the procedures, when they exist, within these organizations.
Paragliding, as a small sport, has huge difficulties to learn from its mistakes. Volunteers are willing to act, lack time for investment and second thought, so they repeat again and again well-known recipes without fixing them. Let’s try to improve this by an open communication.
Olivier’s accident is tragically common: he hit the ground, rotating, below the take-off, in rugged terrain. Joël bravely landed close-by and ran to him in boulder blocks. Olivier fainted then managed to announce on the radio frequency that his back hurt, that he could not move. When Joël reached Olivier, he immediately called for a helicopter. And he did it again and again over the next 2 following hours. No helicopter came.
In the absence of helicopter, the tough job of extracting Olivier from the mountain lied in the hands of the ground staff. The local safety squad consisted basically of firemen or stretcher bearers. They had no pain killers, not even a paracetamol pill, no IV, no nothing, just their legs and arms fuelled by lots of willingness associated with a fair amount of good humor.
The local hospital proved to be a very basic health center. It had no X-Ray machine. Only a tomographic equipment delivering black stained photographs. The local medic diagnosed a displaced vertebra and suggested a return trip to Córdoba for a check-up, just in case.
One way to Córdoba in an ambulance is a four hour drive, a real torture. The next day Olivier was diagnosed with two broken vertebrae. But the public hospital he was in had no capacity to perform surgery. Even the IRM equipment for a clearer picture of the damage was not available before a couple of days. So Olivier had to change hospital for a proper diagnosis with a capable surgery team. Up to this time, he was still lying on a wooden plank for fear of further problems.
The PWCA requirements for safety resources are obviously far below our expected standards, or were not checked enough beforehand. Meanwhile, no officer ever asked about the status of Olivier, not in Mina Clavero, not in Córdoba, not when back in France, not even after he sent a feedback about the issues at hand.
Usually the French Federation sends a doctor together with the numerous French pilots to all PWC events. Unfortunately, personnel availability reasons combined with federal budget restrictions, as well with the absence of French hot shots, led to the absence of medical support. Usually again, the PWCA is happy enough to have this free additional support. Unfortunately for Olivier, no such capable support was available.
The French coach, also not present on the spot, offered an excellent remote interface with all the necessary contacts in France. Christophe, the French doctor, did also his best to keep his nerves cold when interfacing with AXA, the repatriation insurance company. François, the federal doctor, while informed way too late of the accident, allowed to speed up the processes with AXA and to find an excellent hospital in France to welcome Olivier and put him through delicate surgery again.
Now let’s talk a bit more about AXA. That very same insurance company that displayed on French TV screens the week before the comp a wonderful ad basically stating: « wherever you are in the world, if you are in trouble or pain, we will bring you back ». What they do not say is when and how much savings they will try before.
In that case be prepared to explode your mobile phone plan, should you be the wounded or one of his supporters. And do not expect anyone to ask you about this cost and even less to offer some kind of refund. Pray also that your own family is fluent enough in the adequate local language so as to obtain medical information and take urgent decisions.
Thanks to the support of local pilots such as Martin, Olivier has been eventually moved to an excellent hospital. His legs were getting numb. In his new hospital, Olivier was naked, had had the Betadine shower, ready to enter the surgery block when AXA called and say « we will not pay, a paper is missing in our files ». He was unapologetically sent back to his room because of a belated administrative bypass, supposedly some kind of missing payment you will never hear again of.
Every time you call AXA for an update on the situation, you will talk to another bored guy in a call center, most of them not willing to share any kind of information with you.
If you are in Córdoba they will seriously offer an ambulance transfer to Santagio, Chile, across the Andean Cordillera in order to save the cost of a sanitary plane to Buenos Aires. If you tell them that this is madness, they will still study a 10 hours ambulance trip to Buenos Aires. It is only by getting at the very limit of being rude on the phone that they will dispatch a plane.
AXA will argue about every cent and the model of a corset that in fact is neither necessary nor matching the requirements of the local medical team.
And on the last day, minutes before boarding the plane that will bring you back to France, some kind of clown announcing himself as AXA referent doctor in Argentina will show up his face for the first time in 3 weeks to declare he provided such a good support all along the process. AXA is a joke.
After 10 weeks, a first operation in Argentina to fix 5 vertebrae together, a second one in France that could not recover the cervical alignment, Olivier although convalescing is still unable to work, to drive, even to walk more than half an hour and yet has to resort to heavy medication to relieve renewed pains. He insists all the same on sending a mighty salute to all his paragliding companions who supported him and helped him keep confident in this sport. If only we could learn from his adventure.
(Written with the kind collaboration and supervision of Béatrice, Olivier’s spouse – not pictured here 😉 )