Articles & Info
Mirrored Rope Rescue Systems
Risks and Management of Prolonged Suspension in an Alpine Harness
Author: Roger B. Mortimer, MD,
Department of Family Medicine,
UCSF-Fresno Medical Education Program
155 N. Fresno Street, Fresno, CA 93701-2302
Suspension trauma is a state of shock induced by passive hanging. Those who survive passive suspension are at risk for rhabdomyolysis. In a wilderness setting, one can see this in cases of persons suspended on rope by their harness. In a conscious person, leg movements work the venous pump to return blood to the central circulation. In the person passively hanging, blood pools in the legs leading to hypoperfusion of vital organs. In the experimental setting, passive hanging has led to unconsciousness in a matter of minutes. Based on a previous series of deaths on rope that included 7 after rescue, many authors have recommended nonstandard treatment for shock including keeping rescued patients upright or squatting for 30 minutes prior to laying them down. This recommendation assumes that sudden death is a risk from acute volume overload or exposure to waste products in the returning blood. This suggestion is not supported by the original series that demonstrated sudden deaths after rescue nor by modern understandings of physiology. Search and rescue teams and party members assisting a colleague suspended unconscious on rope should follow standard resuscitation measures to restore circulation to vital organs immediately.