Highway doctor's tough call

22:21, Nov 21 2012
Time’s up: Dr Chris Lane next to the Centennial Highway median barrier he campaigned for during his 25 years as a volunteer paramedic on the Coast.

After 25 years attending medical emergencies and car crashes on the Kapiti Coast, Dr Chris Lane is leaving EMS.

The 52-year-old has taken more than two months to come to his decision to step down as director of Kapiti Emergency Medical Service, choosing to spend more time with his family, and with his motorcycles.

"I'm extremely passionate about the job, and it has been a terribly difficult decision to make."

Dr Lane started working as an emergency doctor in Kapiti in 1988, when he arrived from Australia.

In Australia he had worked in a hospital emergency department, and used some of his skills dealing with trauma patients at car crashes in Kapiti.

"In those days, there were multiple trauma cases, several car accidents every fortnight, and there was only one ambulance controller here at that stage.


"They used to call us at home to see if we could attend. In about 1990 we started carrying pagers, because if there was a bad accident the comms would have to call a whole lot of places."

The initial EMS team consisted of Dr Lane and three intensive care paramedics, who received official EMS cars in the early 1990s, after the charitable trust was formed.

On average Dr Lane has attended about 350 calls each year, some years more than 700 call outs, totalling more than 8000 calls in his time in the role.

He was instrumental in the median barrier being erected on Centennial Highway between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, which he said could have saved up to 100 lives.

Kapiti Police Senior Sergeant Alasdair Macmillan paid tribute to Dr Lane, and praised his work in getting the barrier introduced.

"I remember when I first came to Kapiti in this role, in 2004, I think, and in the first six weeks of being here we pulled nine bodies from that road.

"I thank him personally for his work in Kapiti, not just for that, but for all the lives he has saved. It's saved me or my staff having to make any number of calls informing next of kin that their family have died."

Dr Lane said people swerving across the centre line is one of the leading causes of crashes, and reminds him of one of his worst call-outs.

"There is one in Paekakariki. A truck driver had a wasp in his cabin, and as he was trying to get it to fly out the window, he crossed the centre line and hit an Indian family. "It killed the grandmother, [seriously injured] the mother, and [killed] the baby she was carrying."

However there are also happier memories from his service, where he has been able to save lives, including one where he had to cut a man's throat open and insert a tube to allow him to breathe.

"He was a whisker away from death, and we had to open up his neck and put a tube down.

"A few years later I was at a fair at the airport there, and he came up to me and thanked me for what I'd done. I hadn't seen him since he went into the back of the helicopter, so that was really gratifying."

By leaving EMS, Dr Lane said family outings will be far more enjoyable, with no fear of a call- out.

Sons Rhyder, 4, and Toby, 3, would see more of their dad.

"We have to take two cars wherever we go, because I might get called out. It means we can do things as a family more.

"It will be a big change. But I'm looking forward to it."

One thing that won't change however, is Dr Lane's curiosity when he hears sirens.

"I think I'll miss it after about two days. I'll always be wondering where everyone is heading."

Kapiti Observer