Manchester attack surgeon: 'The impact for patients is likely to be lifelong'

Adam Reid describes treating the injuries of the Manchester bombing victims, using techniques developed on the battlefield

Adam Reid is a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at University Hospital of South Manchester

I didn’t know about the attack until 6.30am on Tuesday. I was blissfully unaware until I checked my email first thing in the morning and had a message from a colleague who had been working through the night.

By 7.15am, I was at UHSM and we very quickly established the number of casualties, the nature of the injuries and made a plan for our response. We are primarily trauma and reconstructive surgeons managing life-changing injuries using techniques developed over time through wars and the battlefield.

We had patients in our hospital from teenagers to sixtysomethings, more than half of whom needed limb reconstructions or limb salvage operations. We have managed to reconstruct everyone’s limbs, but we know from experience that our patients will require more treatment in the weeks, months and years to come, and it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future. The psychological impact for our patients is likely to be lifelong.

Clearly, this is an unprecedented event but we had planned for this. Just a month ago, I was at a roundtable event for the whole of Greater Manchester where we went through our plans for an attack such as this.

I am devastated by some of the stories I have heard from my patients this week. I know colleagues in the children’s hospital were dealing initially with unidentified patients, which they found very hard. But at the start we had just one adult patient whose name we didn’t know.

It has been a real team effort with the surgical teams at UHSM working very closely on all patients. I performed two operations on Tuesday. The first was a teenager who had sustained injuries to their hand. Missiles – bolts and metal fragments – had gone through a few of the patients’ fingers. We have seen that a lot: bolts, certainly bigger than your average Ikea bolts, have gone right through limbs, destroying skin, muscle, nerves and bone. I am trained to deal with these injuries but these are the most severe and the greatest number of injuries I have managed.

The closest I’ve come before was a year working as a trauma surgeon in South Africa, dealing with gunshot wounds. My second patient on Tuesday had complex limb injuries from shrapnel. A missile had taken out a chunk of bone in his lower leg and left a sizeable hole. He also had injuries to his arm and chest, so the operation took about four hours.

I ended up going home at about 10pm. I was just so tired and it was then I really started to think about those involved and what they had suffered. I have two children myself so I went in to see them for a cuddle.

I think it will take a while to understand what has happened. For now, I am so proud of my colleagues for continuing to deliver a high standard of care for every patient (including those not involved in the blast) and grateful that I work with such dedicated surgeons, nurses and physios. There has been an amazing effort from all hospital staff working well beyond hours and coming in on days off.

We really appreciate the support from the general public. I didn’t know until Thursday that over £12,000 had been donated to buy us all a pint at the Turing Tap, the pub next to the Manchester Royal Infirmary. I know the bar, it is next to my labs (the Blond McIndoe Laboratories, University of Manchester, specialising in the science of reconstructive surgery and trauma) so I may pop in at the end of next week when things are quieter. But whether the tab will still be running then, I will have to wait and see.


As told to Helen Pidd North of England editor

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