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)
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.