When you think of an emergency waiting room what do you see?
Is it a room with four walls full of sick or injured people, all crammed into tiny seats with fluorescent lights illuminating their pained faces, complaining about how long they have been waiting to see a doctor?
Or do you see the shade of a gum tree, or a bedroom, or maybe the back of aToyota?
We recently had an accident in my community which required the service of the RFDS, and without going into detail it got me thinking about the emergency waiting room. I am sure that a majority of people would see my first example, and to be honest at first thought many people out here would also see that, but in reality it is often the second example that we encounter.
These places are the emergency waiting rooms that people living in isolated areas see. When an accident occurs anywhere the first thing anyone does is pick up the phone and call an ambulance. Even out here the same thing happens, but after that call is made a chain reaction occurs and it can still be 4, 5 or 6 hours before a medical professional is on the scene. The RFDS provides this vital service to people living and to those travelling through rural and remote areas.
In many parts of Australia it is not a matter of calling 000 and having an ambulance arrive at your doorstep in a few minutes. Instead it is a case of relaying information between the person at the scene, nurse, doctor and patient, and having the person at the scene provide the necessary care and treatment until medical professionals can get there. Sometimes this may be an hour and sometimes it may be 4 or 5. I personally have not experienced the act of waiting with an injured or sick person until the medical help arrives, but I can only imagine it would be confronting. What if the roads were cut, the weather was bad and the pilot made the decision not to land. Can you imagine a loved one having a serious injury and having to wait?
There are questions that need to be asked. What care and treatment can you provide them? How do you describe their injuries? How far away is the local ambulance? How critical is the injury? What is the weather like? What are the roads like? What medical staff are needed at the scene? Where is the closest airstrip? What rescue equipment is needed? So many things take time out here that all you can do is sometimes wait.
Communities like Birdsville become instantly aware when an accident has occurred or the RFDS is about. We are fortunate to have the services of nurses from our local health clinic who provide the first immediate response to an accident and resultant communication. I remember when I was little my parent’s would always know when the ‘doctor’ was in as they were able to recognise the sound of the plane. In small communities, the process of getting the injured person from the accident scene and onto the RFDS plane takes the effort of a number of people, which is different to many parts of Australia where 2 paramedics and some high tech equipment can do it. In Birdsville, volunteers drive the ambulance, local pilots put their hand up to locate accidents and enable communication by relaying messages, while other members of the community wait at the plane to help load the patient into it. Without this cooperation and the service of the RFDS, many people would be spending too long in their makeshift emergency waiting rooms.
The RFDS make the isolated feel not so isolated. People living in rural areas are resilient, they deal with problems as they arise not because they always have the right skills, but because they have to. Knowing help is on its way is sometimes all people need to feel secure. In built up areas that help can be 5 minutes away, while here it is a few hours away, but in both instances help is coming if you can just find a way to communicate. The RFDS provides this security for that large part of Australia that fills in the middle of the map and generally has a reddish tinge to it.
I woke up at sometime after 11pm the night after the accident I referred to earlier, and almost immediately started thinking about how to describe what it is like when an accident occurs in the middle of nowhere. Geographically you are a tiny dot in some far out place, but with the security of knowing the local medical services and the RFDS are only a phone call away, you don’t always feel so isolated. I wanted people to know where their money is going when they donate to The Long Walk Home, and hope that even people who have never had anything to do with the RFDS, realise that one day it could be a family member or friend relying on them to save their life.