May 16, 2009

May Is Flying Doctor Month

Here's one for all the Aussies, but I'm sure many of you in other countries will find it interesting as well. This May is Flying Doctor Month, and specifically today is Flying Doctor Day, where they have volunteers collecting funds on behalf of this very worthy organisation.

In a country like Australia, with such vast distances between many people and medical facilities, a service such as the RFDS is vital. In many cases it can be the difference between life & death for patients. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was started by the Rev. John Flynn, as a way of providing a 'mantle of safety' to those living and working in remote areas.

In my previous airline life, I met & worked with many people involved with, or connected to, the RFDS. They had so many amazing stories, it made me want to do what I could to help out. I find it amazing that in this day and age, that our government doesn't see it necessary to fully fund this service, instead making them rely on public donations to cover their equipment & renewing the rather expensive aircraft fleet. The modifications to carry stretechers alone cost a heck of a lot of money, not to mention havving the aircraft structure & engiones modified to carry the extra weight.

Here's a mission as told by one of the RFDS Doctors:

It was a quiet Monday morning in the office, what a sentence! The billy was being boiled for smoko when the telephone rang. A stockman from a station out on the Diamantina was mustering on his horse in the Diamantina Channels when the horse tripped and fell and rolled on the stockman. As it got up, it kicked him in the back. The man was instantly paralysed. Fortunately on that occasion there was another ringer with him and he was able to summons help.

A vehicle with a HF Radio in it was despatched to the scene who then reported back to the station the stockman's condition and the station staff then contacted myself.

Communicating directly with the people at the scene by HF Radio in the vehicle, I made a mental assessment of his condition. My orders were to leave him absolutely as they found him and not move anything. Provide some shade for him and keep him nil by mouth. Pain relief was offered by injection which is always an emotive issue in those not trained to give injections. However, I was able to talk them through it again with the aid of HF Radio.

Our team was summonsed and we departed Charleville for the station.

On arrival out there we off loaded the necessary emergency equipment from our aeroplane into the station ute and drove to the homestead to take stock of the situation. We were told that the location of the accident was some two and a half hours driving away from the homestead over very rough Diamantina Channels. Fortunately a small two seater mustering helicopter caught my eye, but I was told there was no room for any equipment in the helicopter. Helen (the nurse who also happens to be Dr Balmain's wife) agreed to come on out to the scene in the ute with the equipment on board whilst I took a handful of diagnostic equipment in the helicopter and flew more rapidly out to the scene with a view to having the patient assessed by the time the ute arrived.

When I finally arrived at the scene and working only with the contents of one small bag, I was able to assess him and plan a course of action appropriately. We had a 49 year old man with quadriplegia, unable to move any limbs at all because of his spinal injury.

At that stage there was nothing I could do except wait until the utility arrived with our equipment in it some two and a bit hours later.

On arrival of the equipment, working in the heat, the dust and the flies we transferred the patient, very gently from the ground onto the spinal mattress. The trip over the Diamantina channels back to the station obviously took a lot longer than the outward trip for fear of causing further damage to his spine. Back at the station various tubes, pipes, masks and bags were placed appropriately and massive doses of the appropriate steroid were given intravenously.

Contact was then made with the spinal injuries unit of a major Brisbane Hospital, who agreed to accept him and he was loaded on board the aircraft with the remainder of our equipment and we took off firstly for Charleville to refuel and then on to Brisbane.

Last light had overtaken us even before we had left the station, and it was approaching midnight by the time we landed in Brisbane. We were met at Brisbane airport by an ambulance for the next leg of our trip to the hospital.

This man is now back in full time employment on the station and the comments I got from the specialists in Brisbane were that his recovery was as much as anything else due to the fact that he had the early intervention with the drugs, and also because of the mode of movement and transport.

I believe there would have been no other medical service in the world that could have offered this injured stockman the treatment he required as quickly as he did, in an area as isolated as it was by an organisation such as the RFDS.

The whole procedure had taken about fourteen hours but the final result proved worthwhile.

As they say, if you're living in or visiting Australia, you never know when you might need the Flying Doctor.

You can help keep them flying by clicking here.

Picture: Pilatus PC-13 (c) 2008 Jon Davison


  1. Whilst I must confess that I prefer Errol rather than John Flynn - the RFDS is a great organisation. I used to have a bit to do with one of the RFDS nurses if you know what I mean! Great post TT - v interesting

  2. LOL at Lerms comments.

    They do a fantastic job considering the distances and the troubles they have to get a patient out of an area to some place that they can help.

  3. Was penpals once with an RN from the outback who worked out of a King Air.


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