Well time has gone reasonably quickly, 2 months down and 1 to go. I have fallen into a comfortable routine with my job, eking out the small amount of work needed to be done so that it lasts the week. Since Jo has been in Ali Curung at least I have been able to drive down there on Friday after work then back to Tennant Creek on Sunday afternoon. Jo only has 1 week to go before flying back home for a few days then heading to Pepperminati in the Top-End to start our next contract then I will join her after finishing here.
Life is very comfortable here but not at all challenging and certainly no clinical work. I was visiting the Elliott Clinic the other day on one of my fortnightly visits to engage with the 1 client I have there. As I walked into the waiting area there were a few people waiting to be seen and I felt like I was back home, where-ever that might be!!!
For anyone reading this without an idea what a Remote Area Nurse actually does I will give a quick synopsis. Remote Indigenous communities of anything from a few hundred to a few thousand people will have their own Health Clinic. Depending on the community size it may have anything from 2 nurses with a visiting Doctor maybe once a month up to 7-8 nurses and a permanent Doctor.
Even those with a permanent Dr it is usual for the Dr not to be called out afterhours even for emergencies unless it really is life or death. RAN's will see anything that comes in the door, from doing annual health checks to heart-attacks and everything in between. Suicides by hanging, assaults, rapes, births....anything!!! RAN's complete higher training in order to deal with these types of presentations.
We work from a manual called the CARPA which enables us to dispense medications, antibiotics and stronger pain relief as long as we follow the criteria set out in CARPA. If no Dr is available to consult with we are able to contact an oncall Dr to consult with over the phone. We also use a computer platform that the Dr can see our notes as well as the results of any investigations we have conducted in the clinic in order to come up with a diagnosis.
If all else fails and despite our treatment plan things go South we will call in the retrieval service be it the Royal Flying Doctor Service or Careflight in the Top End to evacuate the person. Depending on the condition of the client this may take anything from 2 hours to 24 hours during which we will have to manage the client and keep the Dr informed of any changes in condition.
It is a rewarding job with lots of challenges and discomforts. It can be infuriating and at times can get the adrenalin pumping. Certain additions to policies have made it safer but still nurses get assaulted and threatened on a regular basis too often. Had I my time over again I would have "gone remote" in my twenties before having children. Earned a bucket load of money, and there is a bucket to earn, paid cash for a house then had the luxury of deciding where and how much I worked from then on.
But time is something we can't have over again unfortunately.
Jo has been blown away by cyclone Marcus this week, almost literally! Marcus slipped down the western coast of the Northern Territory dumping huge amounts of rain with high winds that caused plenty of havoc in Darwin. Palumpa escaped any property damage by the winds but caused plenty of inconvenience. Unfortunately timing is everything and one chap had the bad luck to be bitten by a snake just the cyclone went passed. Snake bites are always flown out for management in hospital but as the cyclone was still raging about the Careflight plane was grounded until the Darwin airport opened again.
That meant Jo had an all-nighter in the clinic monitoring the unlucky guy. Although he was quite stable she had to stay awake, while he and the second responder had a lovely nights sleep. Jo was able to handover the next nurse at 8:00 AM to go home and try to catch up on her sleep. Although it sounds a simple process of closing the blinds and just passing out due to exhaustion but the reality is different. You are usually lucky to catch a few hours sleep before your body clock says it's time to wake up again. That's not usually too much of an inconvenience but at 11:30 PM Jo gat another call-out from the other Nurse as there was a head injury coming in and the usual second responder was unable to attend. So another broken sleep for her as she wasn't finished until 3:30 AM!
Jo had to be back on board at 8;00 AM as the GP was flying in for his weekly visit as well as the usual clinic manager who was returning from leave, Jo had been filling in for her. So a few hours sleep, work for a full day, fly to Darwin, night in hotel, up at 6:00 AM for flight to Alice Springs, night in hotel, flight to Tennant Creek, night with me then drive to Ali Curung where she will be for the next 3 weeks. At least for the next 3 weeks Jo will be only one and a half hours drive away from me so I will be able to drive there every week end. Hopefully we can sign up some contracts together after these have finished.
For those unfamiliar with the term Gayle's Law I will give a little background. March 23rd 2016 in the remote indigenous community of Fregon, South Australia, Gayle Woodford, a Remote Area Nurse, was on-call for afterhours emergencies. At around 9:00 PM Gayle and her husband, Keith, went to bed as usual and that was the last time Keith saw his wife alive. Around 11:30 PM Gayle must have been called to their front door, without Keith waking and somehow was lured outside the security cage that surrounds most nurses accommodation by a plea from a man stating that his Grandmother was ill.
That man was Dudley Davey who has since been jailed for life for her murder. He lured her away from the safety of her home with a plea which struck at the core of Gayle's instinct to help the sick. He overpowered Gayle and taking her and the clinic ambulance took off into the bush where he raped then murdered her, burying her in a shallow grave that was discovered 3 days after her disappearance.
This disgusting crime instigated other Remote Nurses and Keith to petition the SA Government to bring in legislation what has come to be known as "Gayle's Law" meaning no nurse should attend any call-out alone and all one nurse clinics should be closed unless extra staff be employed. "Never Alone" was the catch-cry sounded by nurses from all walks of life, from the cities to the outback that enough was enough and this abomination will not happen again.
A TV report aired on the ABC a few nights ago refreshing the memories of Gayle Woodford's heinous murder and the fact was revealed that Safework SA which is responsible for providing work health and safety, public safety and state-based industrial relations services across South Australia has deemed Gayle's death as being not "work related" and as such no workers compensation will be paid to the family.
There are about 1,000 remote area nurses in Australia and our work is challenging. Doctors are usually present only a few days a month and rarely available for afterhours assistance, clinics can be chaotically busy, and RAN's can be called upon for everything from a toothache or a wound needing stitches, to medical evacuation, childbirth or domestic violence-related injuries. The fact that Gayle was expected to be on-call that night and was expected by her employers and the community to use her skills to help anyone in need of medical care that night surely this cannot be classed as "not work related".
This finding has only rubbed salt in the wounds of all RAN's to discover that if something happens to us between our homes and arriving in the clinic afterhours that we will not be covered by workers compensation. There was a huge outcry from nurses of all callings after the program aired via social media but as to whether any of us will be listened to is yet to be discovered.
Watching the program only served to underscore the fine edge that RAN's walk sometimes in these extremely remote settings and only served to refresh the horror that Gayle must have endured that night.
RIP Gayle Woodford- Never Alone.