Staying strong to beat the odds

An interview with Dr Richard Harris, Anaesthetist, Thailand cave rescuer and Joint 2019 Australian of the Year

Avant media

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Video tile of Dr Richard Harris interview titled "Staying strong to beat the odds"

An interview with Dr Richard Harris, Anaesthetist, Thailand cave rescuer and Joint 2019 Australian of the Year

Often when a problem arises, doctors have very little time to assess the situation before making critical, potentially life-changing, decisions.

This certainly was the case for anaesthetist Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris, who was part of the Thailand cave rescue.

An unprecedented event that resulted in him receiving the Star of Courage, Australia’s second-highest civilian award for bravery, the medal of the Order of Australia and being jointly awarded 2019 Australian of the Year.

In an interview for Avant, Harry talks about the rescue mission and how he coped with the pressure while the whole world was watching.

“I almost didn’t have a chance to manage the stress during those four days,” says Harry.  “We were in the cave for 12 hours, coming out to thousands of onlookers and straight into debriefs.”

He faced internal battles of apprehension and questioned his morality throughout the rescue while contributing to decisions that would determine the fates of the 12 boys and their football coach.

“I didn’t give this plan any chance of success at all. The idea of immersing someone underwater in an anaesthetised state is quite preposterous,” he remarks.

Video tile of Dr Richard Harris interview titled "Staying strong to beat the odds"

Staying strong to beat the odds: Avant interview with Dr Richard Harris

Harry was able to process the potential catastrophic risks of some or all the boys dying by considering the alternative.

“The way I justified it to myself, if the boys died, they would be asleep when that happened. If I walked away, they would be doomed to slowly perishing from starvation, infection and exposure over the coming weeks. What a lonely and horrible death. I couldn’t walk away from that possibility. If there was even a sliver of a chance, we just had to give it a try. Also, the whole team was on board with the idea, so I felt well supported.”

Harry also credits his inner strength during the crisis to not just his medical training, but his love of the outdoors and adventure.

“A lifetime of experience and preparation can sometimes culminate during an event that you would never have planned for and expected,” he says.

He encourages doctors to keep up with their training, and mentally rehearse or practise responding to scenarios for when real-life situations arise.

To prepare yourself for life’s adversities “get out and do the things that challenge yourself, whether they’re difficult, scary, challenging or uncomfortable, get as much life experience as possible”, is Harry’s advice.

Dr Richard Harris podcast (audio only)


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