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!

33 thoughts on “Moment of Gratitude for the Royal Flying Doctors Service”

  1. Wow. So glad everything turned out well. This is probably one of the scarier things about traveling – being sick and not being sure where to go for help. The RFDS sounds amazing. We don’t have anything like that in the USA…at least not a free service. Thanks for sharing!

    1. While on a fundraising ride for the RFDS, I heard the story of an American tourist whose wife was evacuated from outback Queensland with the RFDS. He was extremely distressed because he thought he’d have to sell his house to pay. When he found out it was free, he just couldn’t believe it and was so happy!

      1. I’ve lived in the USA and no how expensive medical treatment can be. I’ve heard of cases of people having major heart surgery and sending them bankrupt. I can only imagine his delight at the cost of RFDS, especially being a foreigner!

  2. Hi there!
    My Uncle is an Intensive Care Nurse with the RFDS, they do an amazing job and are such a vital and valuable service to our remote communities. Thank you for supporting them, and I’ll share your post with my Uncle!
    Glad that Kalyra was ok – must have been very scary for a while there!

    1. Hey Cait, well your uncle is awesome then! Yes we were a little concerned at first but were in very good hands at Winton Hospital, and once we realised the RFDS was an option if necessary we felt much better 🙂

  3. First, Thank God that Kalyra is ok, I hope her tummy feels 100% better. Second, what a fantastic organization the RFDS is, it’s great to know such an organization exists and I wonder if there are any other countries that have services like this…

    1. I know Brenda, the most important thing was that Kalyra ended up fine. And yeah I was wondering the same thing if this type of service is offered in other countries. It’s incredible.

      1. The U.K. has various regional Air Ambulances that are involved in rural medical emergencies & in areas where to drive would take more time than is wise for the patient’s care. I live in Northern Ireland where we have just lobbied to have an Air Ambulance for the province, which will be shared with the Republic of Ireland, which is excellent.

        These services are provided free of charge – however they are not government funded & rely 100% on business support, fundraising & sponsorship. I hope I never have to use one, but I am so grateful they are there.

  4. Oh poor little Kalyra. It must have been so worrying for you and Caz being so far from anywhere. Thank goodness you weren’t somewhere with no hospital or medical facilities at all. The RFDS is a fantastic organisation and must save the lives of so many people living in the outback. I would also tip my hat to them. Happy travels!

    1. It was worrying at first when he mentioned her appendix and driving to Townsville, I’m like what??? But having the RFDS as a backup plan definitely eased our minds. Massive hat tip to all those involved!!

  5. Hey!

    This is a fantastic blog, this is my first visit and I have been on here for nearly an hour! I just wanted to compliment the pictures and how personal you make it 🙂

    Have a great day! Shaun

  6. Thanks for sharing such an important story, Craig. The RFDS is a wonderful service that provides peace of mind to thousands of people living in remote parts of Australia.

    Did you know that Alice Springs, Northern Territory is home to the Royal Flying Doctors Service? You can visit their museum in Alice Springs, and even the memorial site for John Flynn, founder of the RFDS.

    Since you and Kalyra (thankfully) didn’t get to ride on the RFDS plane, make sure you visit the RFDS museum in Alice Springs one day where you can hop on board RFDS plane under much better circumstances 🙂

    Cheers,
    P

    1. Hey Petrhyce, definite peace of mind right there. Yes we visited the RFDS museum in Alice Springs briefly on our trip around Oz after visiting Uluru. Such an awesome organisation, but like I said, they didn’t even cross my mind in Winton due to being half asleep and not thinking her condition relevant.

    1. Totally Emily. When you’re faced with the possibility of using their service you realise how valuable they are, and what an incredible service they offer to the rural and Outback region!

  7. I’ve been evacuated twice by the RFDS and fundraise for them. Anyone travelling away from population centres in Australia needs to know about the RFDS. They run clinics and may other services apart from the free evacuation service.
    One was Tibooburra – Moomba – Adelaide; the other was Yulara to Alice Springs (after an ambulance ride to reach there and an emergency operation before I could be loaded into the aircraft).
    Let everyone know – hopefully people will donate so the service continues.

  8. A beautiful letter, a great result and a fantastic team at Winton hospital. When my husband was first sick he flew with RFDS to Townsville and when he returned to Winton four months later, RFDS brought him back. My grandson (and I) also experienced the dedicated team of RFDS during the middle of the night a few years ago and couldn’t have been cared for any better if he’d still been in hospital.
    If this Dr Bryce is the one who attended me in 2014 then I know exactly how safe and secure you and your family felt and his sense of humour is to be experienced to be believed. He also explained, with his wealth of knowledge and care, what was happening to me during my stay there.

    1. Hi Wendy, thanks for sharing your story and glad to hear you also had a pleasant experience with RFDS in a time of need. I’m not sure if it was the same doctor as he hasn’t been in Winton that long. But either way, all of the staff were fantastic!

  9. I think the RFDS is an amazing service and has saved and continues to save so many lives. I can imagine how scary it is living on an isolated property and having no medical attention nearby. It would be amazing to have them fly you out to hospital. Thank goodness you could keep Kalyra in Winton under medical care and not have to drive her back to Townsville. That would have been a nightmare.

  10. Good to hear she is ok. Having grown up in the bush I know are RFDS all too well. They are amazing and it is a charity I always give too.

  11. So wonderful to hear Kalyra is OK.
    I live in outback Queensland in a small Opal mining town, Yowah. We are fortunate to have the wonderful doctors and nurses of the RFDS fly into us every Friday for consultations and anytime there is an emergency. Each doctor specialises in certain fields. Their service and dedication is second to none. God Bless and thankyou to the RFDS

    1. “hit enter before finish” To continue I want to say glad all finish well and she is fine… This is amazing and inspiring blog… I`m passing for financial difficulties but as soon will get back on my feet will plan a travel. Gratitude 🙂

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