Thursday, 18 July 2013

A flight out at night

1 July 2013

As we’ve been travelling we regularly read Alison Lester’s fantastic children’s book about a family travelling around Australia called “Are we there yet?”.  When we were in Streaky Bay the kids HAD to stick their head in the jaws of the shark because that’s what the kids do in the book.  We went snorkeling at Turquoise Bay and Isobel has been nagging us for a cowgirl hat for ages and I’m pretty sure it’s because Gracie got one. 

Well there’s a page where they see an RFDS plane flying off and they make up stories about what happened.  I think we’ve been following the book too closely as we didn’t need to invent a story – we got to experience it for real.  Not an adventure we really needed.

The Kalumburu Road down to Gibb River is probably only 300km but it’s possibly one of the worst corrugated roads we’ve travelled on this trip.  The nurse had said Otto needed rest and plenty of water so in my head, I was thinking he could rest in the car – not really taking into account the road.  He did sleep but I think the corrugations were probably the reason we had to use the sat phone to call the RFDS (thankfully HEMA map of the Kimberley had their phone number printed on it). In hindsight, I think those bumps caused Otto’s seat belts to rub on his swollen glands and resulted in a stiff neck. But we weren’t to know that at the time.

They rang around stations and found that the Gibb River Station only 30-40km away could light up their runway to do a night landing. We did our first night drive in ages to get there and were surprised to see a really big Aboriginal community complete with their own community nurse AND street lights.  Talk about surprising! 

She was lovely, we went to her clinic, pulled all the fleeces and warm clothes down from the roof as our t-shirt and shorts couldn’t cope with this kind of night-time cold. Before we knew it we were being shown to the airstrip where two community members had laid out all the lights for the plane to land safely.

Here we were, under an enormous dark, twinkling sky shivering in the cold waiting for a plane to land.  When we heard the plane and saw its lights in the distance it felt really surreal to think they were coming  to help our little Otto – a pilot, nurse and doctor and three lovely people on the ground all helping too.

The plane landed in quite a dramatic way!  It pulled up in less than 100 m in a cloud of dust which we could see although it was pitch black.  Thankfully the take off wasn’t that exciting nor the landing on the tarmac at Broome.  The plane was tiny.  They had about 3 single seats, and a stretcher down the length of one whole side.  I sat down on it (they brought the seat up for me so I was semi-reclined) and strapped me in with a big sash belt.  Then they put a harness thing over my belly and then really strapped Otto into that.  Over our lap were lots of machines that went ping but thankfully we didn’t need any of them.

The nurse sat across from us and facing us so she could do all of Otto’s obs while we were on the flight.  The doctor sat right behind us (facing forward though) behind the pilot and there really wasn’t room for much else.  We all got weighed including our backpacks and water before we hopped on the helicopter a few days earlier so that was helpful as I could tell the doctor on the phone before they took off exactly how much Otto and I weighed.  This is crucial for them to know given how small the plane is and how much stuff they already have in it.

As the plane took off I could see three 4WDs beside the runway and felt so sad to be leaving behind my rock, Simon, and Hugo and Isobel.  We haven’t been separated much on this trip and when we have, I really feel it. The nurse and I talked for some of the way but then I collapsed into sleep. The plane took off at 10 pm and it was a 75 minute flight to Broome.  We are usually in bed around 7pm, and 8pm is a late one so I was exhausted.

The community nurse had offered for Simon and the kids to stay there the night which was really generous but Simon drove back to camp. Must’ve been a hard drive. I think he got home around the same time we touched down in Broome. 

A volunteer ambulance driver met us on the runway with a paid paramedic.  Volunteers are so important in non-metropolitan areas – everything would collapse without them.  They did a handover from the RFDS staff and took us to the hospital. By this time I’d heard the flying doc on the phone to the hospital when we touched down to say there was no need to call the pediatricians out of bed as Otto’s obs were all good.  The best indicator that he didn’t have meningitis is that he didn’t have any light sensitivity or rashes on his stomach, bottom or feet.

A lovely nurse and doctor looked after us in Emergency and poor Otto got woken again for about the third or fourth time that night for their examinations!  He then take ages to go to sleep.  Finally at about 2pm we got onto the ward and 45 minutes my bed was made, lights went off and we could both collapse into sleep.

We had a single room, much bigger than the room at PMH in Perth. The paediatric ward in Broome is only 12 months old and is beautiful, functional and designed really well.  I LOVED the shower the next morning and the convenience of having it as an ensuite. What a treat!

They looked after us beautifully. Unlike at PMH I was given a meal along with Otto which was a relief as I discovered during the day I couldn’t buy anything at the hospital – no little kiosk even and a bit of a walk to the nearest shops.  I had taken only $50 cash and some phone cards to make calls; but no credit card. What a mistake!  I couldn’t add more credit on the phone cards without a credit card, couldn’t book a bus ticket – nothing.

Two lovely, young female paediatricians came into examine Otto just when Playschool began!  What bad time. It’s the only show he loves to watch, he hadn’t seen it for months and wasn’t very compliant with them because all he wanted to do was watch tele.  Poor thing. 

He was really bright by now, he hadn’t had a temperature since I’d phoned the RFDS the night before and after a pretty thorough physical examination they ruled out meningitis and said it was probably a virus causing problems in the upper respiratory tract and he had some slightly swollen glands. He had been complaining of a sore neck over the weekend but I thought that as his language skills are still developing, he was actually referring to a sore throat. This was similar to the symptoms Hugo had had so I didn’t think for a minute it was a sore neck until on the Monday night he wouldn’t turn his neck left or right and lay down in a way that didn’t require his neck to strain at all. 

Anyway, they said we could be discharged immediately.  Best outcome we could’ve had really – except that Simon and the kids were about 700 km away from us! 

I had told Simon I’d leave him a message at the Imintji Store that morning.  But as I had quite a lot to share, I had to resort to writing it all down and sending a fax!  How old fashioned!  We then had a few phone conversations, always so happy to hear Simon’s voice on the phone, and we decided the best thing for the whole family was for Simon and the kids to get to Derby and set up there.  Otto and I would catch the Greyhound bus that night from Broome and meet them there saving Simon an extra 200km of driving that day PLUS the stress of trying to find a campsite in Broome in peak season.

Otto and I had a yummy lunch and I felt so exhausted I lay down on his bed while he sat up and watched television and I fell asleep.  At some point I remember him snuggling down and sleeping too.  I think I was asleep for more than 1 hour and when I woke felt so amazed with the staff there.  They needed our room but didn’t want to disturb me so waited until we both woke up naturally.  Amazing!

We read lots of books together and Otto enjoyed playing in the lovely play space they had – both an inside and outside space. The parents lounge was lovely and spacious and looked out over the outdoor play space – so different to PMH in Perth! 

The nurse even ordered an early dinner for us both, and the Aboriginal Liaison Officer drove us from the hospital to the bus stop. We were so well cared for at the Broome Hospital – and not just clinically!  So important.

Otto fell asleep in his bus seat with his lap sash on before we even left the town limits of Broome. So I sat him on my lap and cuddled him all the way to Derby – about 2.5 hours away by bus.  I was never so happy to see Simon when he boarded the bus to help me off…we all had so much to talk about even though we’d been apart for less than 24 hours! 

While the others were still talking I climbed into bed and fell asleep.  What a journey! 

And that was the rather abrupt end to us travelling down the Gibb River Road. 

PS Seems Otto picks his days for major drama.  On my Mum's birthday he got burnt and on my sister's birthday he got flown out by the RFDS. 

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