It didn’t take Lane long to realise that she wanted to be a flight nurse. Her face lights up when she tells me about the free hat she got from an RFDS stall at the Easter show and that was it, she was sold at the idea of becoming a flight nurse. So that’s exactly what she did.
Lane started her graduate year working in mental health and absolutely hated it. She begged her old emergency department manager (where she had worked as an AIN during her studies) for a job and quickly transitioned into an emergency nurse. A couple years into the hectic world of an emergency nurse, Lane landed a scholarship to study a grad certificate in emergency care and later midwifery. Half way through studying midwifery, Lane saw her dream job advertised in Darwin with Careflight, applied, landed the role, and has never looked back.
One of the things that has always fascinated me is how patients are cared for in the air, so that’s the first thing I ask Lane. Lane tells me that there’s different laws of pressure that apply in the air and on top of nursing cares there are a few considerations that need to be taken into account in the air. Gas expansion, lower levels of oxygen, the cold temperatures of altitude, vibrations and noise as well as the general fear factor of flying make it difficult. ‘A lot of people from communities have never, ever been on a plane, and when they get on they are terrified’. Careflight is an aeromedical retrieval organisation, who, in the Top End, fly to remote and indigenous communities including remote stations to transfer patients requiring hospital treatment to the Royal Darwin Hospital and Gove Hospital as well as transfers from other top end hospitals.
An average day on the job is 12hrs at least, beginning with an extensive check of all medical equipment on the planes. Because the jobs can be so remote, it’s so important that all required equipment is, there, working and you have enough drugs enough fluids and oxygen to last the trip. After that, there’s nothing average about it. Lane tells me how varied the jobs can be, ‘it can be a German tourist rolling over a caravan with a broken leg, or an elderly Indigenous person with rheumatic heart disease, or it can be a clinic nurse, who was bitten by a snake on their way into shift’. Lane likens the work to ED as the work is so unpredictable.
One of Lane’s more memorable days at work began with a flight to a rural community during the wet season with her good mate Mommers the pilot and a neonatologist to retrieve a mother at 33 weeks gestation with a concealed haemorrhage in the placenta. A 45 minute flight, transfer of equipment to ambulance, drive to clinic, load patient up, ambulance journey to airport and away they go off to Darwin. Standard pick up everything was fine, mum and bub all good.
It was around midnight at this stage and they flew as far as Howard Springs (roughly 30km of out of Darwin), when the storm closed in and it was impossible to fly through. They had to turn the plane around and head back to the community, as they were quickly running out of fuel. The storm, however followed them the whole way back and Lane describes that flight as ‘awful and the worst flight, yet the patient slept through it.’ They were thrown around, lightning everywhere and Lane knew it was bad because the normally chatty pilot Mommers was suddenly quiet as a mouse and rather snappy when Lane offered him a curly wurly. It was on this flight that she, Mommers and the neonatologist encountered St Elmo’s Fire, a rare weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a strong electric field. Lane tells me that because it is a sign of electricity in the air, which can interfere with compass readings, sailors have always regarded it as an omen of bad luck. Depending on how you look at it, what was to come could’ve been a stroke of bad luck for the Careflight duo, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
As they came into land the wind picked up further and threw the plane causing quite a thud as they hit the ground. When the came to a stop, the patient suddenly didn’t feel quite right. Lane emptied the plane to do a vaginal examination and it became evident that the rough landing may have caused the concealed bleed to rupture.
A quick call to St John’s and they were headed back to Hospital with a patient deteriorating rapidly. Ideally, the patient needed to be in Darwin, which was better equipped to deal with the patients condition, but this job was time critical and an emergency C-section was performed there and then. They waited outside theatre while the procedure was carried out. The baby was delivered without too many dramas and while mum lost a fair bit of blood she was alright and able to hold Bub for a short time and take a couple of happy snaps. Bub had to be transferred to Darwin as she was unstable and required further care, so off they returned. By this time the storm had passed and it was a safe but long journey returning at 1130hrs. Lane tells me she started that shift at 1900hrs the previous day and although it was a long one it was well worth it. She took comfort in knowing that the baby was delivered to the Royal Darwin Hospital and was in good hands with the nurses there. A few hours later, when mum was more stable, she was also flown to Darwin to be with baby. A great outcome that overcame the sometimes harsh conditions of the territory.
Lane’s settled with her work life and tells me that she has hit the jackpot having found her dream job. She is looking forward to her future of constant learning and may complete her masters degree in midwifery in the near future. Medicine is always evolving and as a result health care is ever changing!
‘I want to keep learning, keep practicing and I think you can always make yourself a better practitioner’
To find out more about Careflight visit http://www.careflight.org