Moment of Gratitude for the Royal Flying Doctors Service

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Me: “What would you do if it was your child?”

Doctor: “If it was my child….long pause….I would drive straight to Townsville”.

Not what I wanted to hear, considering Townsville was a six hour drive away and Kalyra had a suspected appendix issue. The last thing I wanted was for Kalyra’s appendix to burst whilst we were on a long drive in the middle of nowhere.

We were in Winton, our favourite town in Outback Queensland, and had been up most of the night with Kalyra feeling sick and crying in pain from a sore tummy.

At 4.00am, it got to the point where she would wince at a gentle touch of her tummy and I decided she needed looking at by a doctor or nurse, but had no idea if a hospital or medical centre existed out here.

Winton has a population of 900 odd people and is a 1,355km drive from Brisbane. This was our second visit to Winton and I didn’t recall ever noticing a Hospital, or even a sign.

View of Winton from our room at the North Gregory Hotel
View of Winton from our room at the North Gregory Hotel

I grabbed my phone and did a quick Google search and to my delight a Winton Hospital was listed, but the opening hours stated 0800 to 1700. I decided to call anyway and thankfully a nurse answered the phone.

After a short discussion about Kalyra’s condition, she suggested we bring her in for observation. Still half a sleep I grabbed my keys and Kalyra and headed for the hospital. Savannah was still asleep, she’s a bugger to get to sleep but once down will sleep through most things, so Caz stayed at the hotel with her.

Upon arrival at the hospital, we were greeted by the friendly nurse I spoke with over the phone. All the initial checks and questions were carried out and the nurse decided she needed to see the doctor who would be in later on that morning as he’d already been in overnight attending another patient.

This doctor’s name now escapes me, but he carried out more tests, asked more questions, and decided that Kalyra needed to see the head doctor who would be in after 8am.

Dr Bryce arrived shortly after 8am, was friendly and playful with Kalyra, and reassured her everything would be ok. He did his checks and looked at the results from the previous tests and said everything was pointing towards it being her appendix.

The signs were there – she had no appetite the night before, didn’t touch her dinner at all, and had stomach pain in the exact location of her appendix, but he couldn’t be 100% certain, just yet.

He then ran me through some scenarios of getting a complete diagnosis.

First option was to drive back to Longreach, a two-hour drive away, and have a scan done – they didn’t have the equipment in Winton. But they only did scans on certain days and today was an off day, but he said it would only take a phone call and it would be possible, especially considering she was a child.

But, he thought it was too early in her sickness for a scan to show anything so we hesitated on that option.

It was then that he mentioned Townsville or Mount Isa (5-hour drive further west), as they both had scanning equipment and surgeons who could take care of it if it was, in fact, her appendix.

Neither of these options seemed appealing due to being LONG drives with an 8-year-old with a potential burst appendix on our hands.

It was time to pick up Caz, get her to the hospital and figure this out.

Kalyra was quite teary at this stage as I left to grab Caz from our hotel, not so much about the pain which had eased thankfully, but of all this talk of hospitals and surgeons and not understanding what was happening.

Kalyra in Winton Hospital
Kalyra in Winton Hospital

When I arrived back with Caz we had a long discussion with the doc and again he ran through the options: going to Longreach for a scan, driving straight to Townsville or Mount Isa where they could take care of everything, or staying in Winton and monitoring the situation.

We ruled out Longreach due to the scan not really solving the issue, and whilst he assured us driving to Townsville wouldn’t be risky as we had a big enough window of time to get there without complications, we were unsure of our next move!

So he suggested we stay in the hospital in Winton, get some blood tests done that would show if it was just a virus, and monitor the situation. If she did deteriorate and it turned out to be her appendix, they could put her on medication to ease the pain and stabilise her until the RFDS arrived to fly her to Rockhampton.

“What’s the RFDS again I asked?”

“The Royal Flying Doctor Service, they’re just a phone call away and can fly her to Rockhampton,” he said.

“Oh, sorry, the acronym threw me for a second there!”.

The RFDS hadn’t even entered my mind, partly because I was still half asleep from being up most of the night, and partly because I didn’t know it was available for situations like this and it’s not a service I’d ever thought I’d be calling on.

“They would fly here?” I questioned.

“Yes, they fly everywhere, all they need is a strip of grass to land. Once I make the call, it will be several hours before they arrive, but we could stabilize her and she’d be fine”, he reassured us!

If you’re not familiar with the RFDS, I’ve taken this straight from their website:

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organisations in the world, providing extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency service to people over an area of 7.3 million square kilometres.

Using the latest in aviation, medical and communications technology, the Royal Flying Doctor Service works to provide emergency medical and primary health care services to anyone who lives, works or travels in rural and remote Australia.The RFDS has 63 national aircraft covering the length and breadth of the country.

The RFDS’s emergency retrieval service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, delivering the finest care to more than 290,000 Australians each year.

I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to hear that we had the RFDS to call upon.

To know that we could keep Kalyra in Winton and stay under the excellent care of Dr Bryce and his staff versus a long, somewhat risky drive to Townsville was music to our ears!

In Queensland alone, The RFDS employs over 400 people with positions ranging from pilots, doctors, nurses, engineers, and allied health professionals, and operates 20 aircraft from nine operational bases located in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Charleville, Mount Isa, Longreach and Roma.

Not only is the RFDS delivered by a dedicated team of passionate and caring professionals, but the service is FREE. And not only would they fly Kalyra for free to the nearest regional hospital, but one parent as well. That’s AMAZING!

Kalyra spent all day in the hospital and the following night under observation with Caz in a bed beside her, and I took Savannah back to our hotel. The following morning we met with the doc again, and thankfully, he had good news.

Kalyra had improved considerably over this 24 hour period and the blood test results came back clearing her of appendicitis and pointing towards a virus, and she was discharged with a full bill of health, healthy enough that she could have gone to school in fact.

We don’t know how she got this virus or what it was, but we’re very grateful that Kalyra was fine, and although we didn’t require the service of the RFDS we’re extremely GRATEFUL that such a fantastic organisation exists in our country that helps so many people in need each year.

It sure was reassuring knowing that they were just a phone call away!

Although we didn’t need you, to everyone at RFDS, we would like to say a BIG thank you for what you do for the rural areas and Outback region of Australia. We gladly just made a donation online. 

And to Doctor Bryce and his staff at Winton Hospital, you guys were fantastic with Kalyra, your care and attention first class and again it’s reassuring to know that you can go to a hospital in a rural area of Australia, and receive such great care.

Hat tip!

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