In addition to working with Magpas Air Ambulance and treating patients at the scene of their incidents, many of our doctors also have roles within hospitals too. Dr Rishi Rallan has been a doctor with the charity for over four years, but also works as a consultant in emergency medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.  

While working in the Emergency Department (ED) recently, Rishi was filmed for the new series of Surgeons: At the Edge of Life, which follows patients from their arrival in ED, through initial treatment and onto their recovery. Rishi talked to us about what it’s like working in such a high-pressure environment, under the gaze of television cameras… 

Can you tell us a bit about the patient case that was filmed? 

The cameras were in ED for a few weeks so lots of patients were filmed during that time, but one particular case that I think will be aired is that of a man in his early thirties, who had been involved in a motorcycle accident.  

Due to the severity of his injuries he was treated at the scene by a pre-hospital air ambulance team who suspected lung collapse (pneumothorax) and blood in the lung (haemothorax), which can be life threatening if not managed quickly. He also had open limb fractures which carry a significant risk of infection and disability. He received advanced medical care at the scene of the incident before being brought to us. When he came into ED he was conscious and very confused, and the filming started when the air ambulance staff handed over to our ED team.  

There, my job as trauma team leader is to manage this process. For this patient, this involved a thorough assessment, ensuring the pre-hospital chest drain insertion was still working, making sure we had good IV access for the patient, giving strong and effective pain relief, alerting the team to any changes in patient status, and ensuring further arrangements were made for onward care.  

What did it feel like to have cameras shadow you at work? 

A little daunting at first! There were at least two wall mounted cameras and two or three physical camera men in the trauma room. All the cameras were linked up to a TV production van outside where the filming was being viewed in real time. The production team and the cameramen would talk to each other through earpieces and microphones so they could ensure they were capturing everything that was going on, and we all wore mics too. 

A trauma room is already a busy place as there can be between eight and ten people treating a patient at any time. Adding cameramen to this made it even tighter, but they were great at keeping to the edges of the bay so we could get on with the job. You can’t help being aware of their presence in the room but when you’re treating a patient, you naturally focus solely on that person’s care. 

As the team leader I was also aware of how my team were finding it and making sure that they weren’t overwhelmed and stayed focused on the job, as well as explaining what we were doing to the film crew as we use a lot of medical terminology when talking as a team. 

How did you find being interviewed about the case? 

As well as being filmed treating patients, I was also interviewed about it afterwards. It was a room filled with cameras and white lights—and one chair in the spotlight! The set up made it feel like I was talking to someone, but by using mirrors, I was actually talking directly into the camera. The interview lasted 2.5 hours which seemed like a very long time, but they said it was the shortest they’d done.  

Understandably, the production crew want it to be an emotive interview and tell the story of the patient’s treatment in a compelling way. I found this quite tricky though, as being a pre-hospital doctor with Magpas Air Ambulance (as well as an ED doctor), we see patients in their home environment and often experience the reaction of families and onlookers. Therefore, we’re trained to deal with very emotive and distressing situations on a daily basis, without the comfort of the familiar environment of our hospital, so I’m now quite resilient and able to control those emotions well… Which might not make the best TV, but does help us all in this job. 

Are you looking forward to seeing yourself on TV?! 

Absolutely not! I think I have a face for radio!

Most of us in this privileged job role are just very happy doing the job we do and the best for our patients. We don’t expect recognition for this. However, I do see the benefit in the public seeing what we do through an informative series. There is always a degree of trepidation with something like this, but the production team have been ever so friendly and I relished the challenge of having to think quickly on my feet, be able to explain severe medical/trauma problems in simple and effective language and also showcase what a brilliant and challenging job that we do in emergency medicine.  

I have a lot of family and friends who I am sure will be keen to see the show, however I for one will be watching firmly through my fingers!