Time moves on in Yuendumu and as usual when we start to get close to our finish date we start to count the days. Moving on seems a part of life now and although there is an element of the unknown, there is also the element of expectations and excitement about a new place. To get through the next few weeks we have tried to have little things to look forward to, milestones sort of that divide the time into smaller chunks.
Last weekend we had Friday night and Saturday off so drove the 90 kms towards Alice Springs to the Tilmouth Well Roadhouse. We had booked a room here for the night and the idea was just to chill, have someone else cook for us and enjoy a drink or two. Which is just what we did. It's a lovely place, nothing fancy but a real oasis on the Tanami Road with green grass, a pool and a clean and pleasant eating area. The staff there are very friendly and the food, thought nothing exotic, was hearty and well priced.
The week prior to this sojourn was in one way lucky for us but just underscored the frustrations of working remote. Another smaller community nearby Yuendumu is Mt Allen or Yuelumu about 45 minutes drive away. The clinic there has been closed for some weeks as there had been no staff available to run it. Jo had travelled with one of the other nurses to Yuelumu a few times over that period just as a day trip to see anyone that needed to be seen.
Any serious after-hours emergencies would require two nurses to drive there in the dark, open the clinic or bring the person back to Yuendumu. That has been quite an extra load on the Yuendumu staff but Jo and I had been lucky enough not to have to do it. To add insult to injury, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) had decided that there was a safety issue with our airstrip here in Yuendumu and had closed the strip for evacuations. That meant any night time evacs had to be driven to Yuelumu which as well as being an extra work load was not the best handling of any seriously ill client.
Now the reason the Yuendumu strip was closed was......the grass was too long around the lights that run the edges of the strip and apron!!! I can appreciate the RFDS pilots having there safety standards and am in no way criticising their decision. The frustrating issue is that it took over a week for someone to decide whose job it was to cut the grass!!!!
First week of 2018 over and done with a few out of the normal events. There is Mens Ceremony being held at the moment which will continue on for some weeks. I have been paying a visit to the men's camp, with permission of the elders, to attend to any infections or general health issues arising. It has become a normal routine to drive the few kilometres out of the community but I should not forget that I would be one of very few non-indigenous people that have been allowed to visit these camps. Out of respect for the culture I will not reveal any of the proceedings but rest assured there are some aspects of the proceedings that are not for the feint hearted.
Jo and myself were on-call last Saturday and the day started off quite well with our first call not until about 10;30 AM, very civilised. Unfortunately it did not stop until around 9:45 PM without a break, mostly run-of-the-mill presentations. Children with fevers, some vommiting and diarrhoea, a lady with Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) and so on. I was called to the community police station to do a "fit for custody" assessment which was straight forward enough. Until the fellow found out he was going to be transferred to Alice Springs which sent him off the deep end and again without going into details meant the officers would need to put aside a number of hours to clean the cell afterwards.
We arrived home to fall appreciatively into our chairs in front of the TV and just veg out for a while, and a while is all we got. I answered the phone about 10:45 to the St John's Ambulance comms centre in Alice Springs which always get my heart rate up. I was told there was a single vehicle roll-over about 130 km's East of Yuendumu on the main Tanami Road to Alice Springs. Details were sketchy but enough to be told there was police at the scene, 5 occupants unrestrained, 1 deceased at the scene, 1 critical and 3 unknown injuries.
We jumped into our shoes, drove to the clinic to collect our trauma bags and headed out of town. In the dark our speed was reduced due to the possibility of animals on the road. We arrived at the scene about 12:30 AM to find the vehicle had travelled off the road around 60 metres so had to bump the ambulance across country to have our equipment and lights handy. I found working in the dark with torches with the red and blue emergency services lights blinking in the background quite surreal.
Again details are probably not necessary but without the police stumbling across the accident and being able to use their satellite phone to contact us there more than likely would have been 2 fatalities. A hour or so after we arrived the ambulance arrived from Alice Springs with a RFDS retrieval doctor who was able to intubate the casualty and transport him to the hospital. We were left to transport the remaining occupants in our ambulance and police vehicle to Alice Springs with nothing more than a few broken bones.
That transport saw us finish our handover to hospital staff around 6:30 AM Sunday. We contacted our on call manager who offered to book us into a hotel room for a few hours sleep before having to face the 3 hour drive back to Yuendumu. We arrived back in Yuendumu around 3:30 PM, gladly handed the ambulance to the Sunday on call nurses and promptly fell into bed after a quick shower and didn't stir till morning again.
Happy New Year!!!!!!!!