Karen Bar­low

Karen is a Se­nior Flight Nurse with the Dubbo Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice (RFDS) where the Duke & Duchess of Sus­sex be­gan their visit to Dubbo yes­ter­day (Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 17)

Dubbo Photo News - - News - - In­ter­view & photo by Wendy Mer­rick

I’ve been here full time for 19 years, it will be 20 years at the end of June next year. When I started we had one air­craft and three nurs­ing staff with a day and a night shift, now we have three day shifts and a night shift. We have four planes here and we also run a den­tal clinic out of Dubbo. It’s grown a lot in the last 19 years.

How did you be­come a Flight Nurse? I was work­ing in the Dubbo Emer­gency De­part­ment at the time and a girl showed me an ad ripped out of the pa­per for flight nurses with the RFDS based in Dubbo. I was lucky enough to get one of those jobs.

Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent and I get to meet lots of peo­ple. We do ev­ery­thing from re­trievals with re­ally sick peo­ple, in­cu­bated or ven­ti­lated, down to or­thopaedics. The tenac­ity of the peo­ple that we put on that plane some­times is amaz­ing – mums with sick chil­dren, women who are fright­ened in pre­ma­ture labour and don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, peo­ple who have been in trau­matic ac­ci­dents... We do a fair bit of ma­ter­nity be­cause you can­not have a baby west of Dubbo now, which is re­ally hard for women with re­ally young chil­dren. It’s a very in­ter­est­ing and re­ward­ing job.

I met Prince Charles and Camilla in Longreach. It was a very ex­cit­ing day, I’d never been to Longreach and we flew up the day be­fore. We planned a sce­nario of a young man who was in­jured on a sta­tion, he was put on the back of a Land­cruiser and we were wait­ing in the air­craft – it felt like it was 50 de­grees in­side the air­craft. Once Prince Charles and Camilla ar­rived we lifted the pa­tient into the air­craft. Af­ter­wards they came over and met the team which was re­ally nice.

Prince Charles was very in­ter­ested in what we do. Camilla com­mented about how they had flown in from Pa­pua New Guinea straight to Longreach, and she said it was so hu­mid that she nearly had to call us (RFDS) be­cause the hu­mid­ity was so high. They were very chatty and very nice and he ob­vi­ously thinks the world of her be­cause any­thing that he was shown he im­me­di­ately showed her, he was very at­ten­tive with her which was re­ally nice to see.

They were very down to earth. We had the plane nam­ing cer­e­mony, he made a lovely speech, and they both walked through the crowd to meet peo­ple. It was so very hot, I al­ways thought that when I met the royal fam­ily I’d have per­fect makeup, but by the time I got out of the air­craft my mas­cara had run ev­ery­where.

As far as I know we are not go­ing to be do­ing a sim­i­lar sce­nario for Prince Harry and Meghan. (Dubbo Photo News in­ter­viewed Karen a few days be­fore the royal visit.) It will be a plane nam­ing cer­e­mony and they will cut a cake or rib­bon.

It’s an hon­our for the RFDS for them to think enough of the ser­vice to come and see one of our air­craft. It’s such a busy sched­ule that they’ve got and for them to take the time to come to Dubbo is great.

Each plane has a name, it’s our way of ac­knowl­edg­ing all the hard work peo­ple have done. Due to peo­ple’s gen­eros­ity in ru­ral and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, they keep us in the air.

With­out the do­na­tions that peo­ple give and sup­port from the com­mu­nity, we wouldn’t have a lot of the equip­ment that we have. Also, the Se­nior Flight Nurse who worked in Sydney for over 30 years passed away and they named a plane af­ter her.

There isn’t al­ways a doc­tor on board. For all the in­ter-hospi­tal trans­fers it’s a nurse and a pi­lot, but if some­one needs re­triev­ing, for ex­am­ple if they’ve been re­ally badly hurt in a car ac­ci­dent, we take a doc­tor with us. There have been times when we’ve had re­ally sick peo­ple on the air­craft and it’s a very au­ton­o­mous job but you just have to rely on your clin­i­cal knowl­edge, and put your faith in your pi­lot to get you there.

Our pi­lots don’t take off un­less it’s safe. We don’t tell them about the pa­tient be­cause you don’t want that in­flu­enc­ing whether they go or not. It’s a team ef­fort with two to­tally dif­fer­ent vo­ca­tions – avi­a­tion and med­i­cal – com­ing to­gether to do the one job, so there’s a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the two. It’s a great team here at Dubbo.

I flew to a re­mote town one day and picked up four footy play­ers from the same team, young guys, one had a bro­ken arm, one had a bro­ken col­lar bone, and so on. It was the most hi­lar­i­ous trip I’d ever had.

I flew a lady into Sydney one day, she was in early labour but she didn’t labour in the flight and was quite calm and peace­ful. When we got off the air­craft I de­cided to go in with the am­bu­lance of­fi­cers, we were half way to where we were go­ing and then she said “I’m get­ting pain”. We were caught in traf­fic lights five min­utes from the hospi­tal and she de­liv­ered.

We were at a small town with a new labour­ing mum on board. We tax­ied to the run­way, and she said “Oooh my wa­ter has just bro­ken”, so I asked the pi­lot to take us back to the ter­mi­nal to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion. We went back to the ter­mi­nal and by this stage she was push­ing, so we called the am­bu­lance and asked them to come back. She had a beau­ti­ful lit­tle baby. I was in IGA about a month later stand­ing at the check­out and this young man came up to me and said, “You de­liv­ered my baby at the air­port ter­mi­nal.”

One of our flight nurses was at Col­larene­bri the other day and a lady came up to her with a baby and asked if I still worked for the RFDS. She asked her to say hello to me and to let me know that she ap­pre­ci­ated ev­ery­thing I did.

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