Remote Area Nurse for Thargomindah Chris Dodd.
Remote Area Nurse for Thargomindah Chris Dodd. Andrea Davy

Remote nurse reflects on 40 years in outback

REFLECTING on almost 40 years working in health sector, Chris Dodd admitted it was an "odd choice for a bloke to become a nurse in the 70s".

But as a young lad growing up in Walcha, a small town in northern New South Wales, he always had the urge to travel and live in remote parts of Australia - and, a career in nursing has gifted him that opportunity.

His first remote position was at Kowanyama in Cape York.

This was during the early 80s when the community was called the Mitchell River Mission, and didn't have 24-hour power or phone lines.

Chris learnt quickly he could cope well with isolation and these remote parts of Queensland had prime fishing.

"There were barramundi up there no one had ever thrown a lure at before," the father-of-three said, his eyes slightly widening with the memory.

You could say that sentiment, in many ways, sums up his time working in the bush.

There is an honour in providing emergency care for patients who would otherwise have to travel thousands of kilometres, but a bonus is when there is good hunting and fishing close by.

Now working as Thargomindah's Director of Nursing in southwest Queensland, Chris caught up with the Rural Weekly to talk about the highs and lows of his long-standing career working in some of the country's most isolated locations.

Chris finished his training at the Royal Brisbane Hospital in 1979, within a few months headed up to the Cape.

"No one knew what remote area nurses were in those days," he said.

"I was working with a group called the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement - it was a government organisation that looked after the communities, and they looked after the health as well.

"There were no doctors in this town."

In those days, the only form of communication Chris had was through radio.

"In the town they just had one big generator, it was on for the town during the daytime but after hours there was nothing," he said.

"We charged the battery on the radio so we would have emergency communication after hours."

Chris admitted this part of Australia was a "different world", and that level of isolation wasn't for everyone, but said "the fishing was amazing".

Flash forward over the years and Chris recalls working on remote islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea, right down to farming communities in central New South Wales.

He said the biggest challenge of the role was dealing with the ebbs and flows of activity.

Long stretches where nothing happens can be followed up with a series of intense situations.

Over the decades he has delivered babies, attended four plane crashes and literally restarted people's hearts.

"We are generalists in the really broad sense of the word," he said.

"We can never be specialists as a remote area care nurse because whatever comes through the door at a city hospital, comes through the door at our place."

Chris joked that watching TV shows about hospitals was amusing for him, because in one scene they might have doctors with "airways", "IV access" and "leads" written on their uniforms.

"I picture myself wearing a T-shirt with all three stickers on at once," he said.

His role can be as varied as treating walk-ins, to driving the station's ambulance to call outs.

"My area, The Bulloo Shire, is about 5000km bigger than Tasmania," he said.

"With my ambulance, if they sent me to some of our most distant places, even with my dual fuel tanks, I couldn't make it back."

Advancement in technology has transformed his profession.

"Video conferences are just amazing," he said.

"It's like having a person here in the room with me who can look around, they can see what I am doing and pick up something I might have missed.

"I have spent most of my life on call with radios, so when phones came through it's was just amazing."

Nowadays Chris is working on a three-week on three-week off roster - during his 21-day stint he is on call 24-7.

He has to be within 10 minutes from the clinic at all times, limiting the time he has to go for a walk, drive or fish.

But to him, that wasn't any reflection of a personal sacrifice to the job.

"No no, not at all. I am here because I can't work in big city hospitals," he said.

"I would find that really unpleasant."

Chris had a quiet nature about him, and said he tried to keep a professional distance from his patients.

The "nasty" cases, where people had died or were seriously injured, or times when he was the first responder to crashes had worn on him.

But the good cases, fair outweighed the bad.

"Most people are appreciative of us being here, they try to look after us," he said.

"Sick kids are the same anywhere.

"But when you get a sick kid out here you really worry, it's a long way from a doctor or hospital care.

"We are more than 1000km away from Brisbane and 900km away from Toowoomba."

When asked what it was like to save a life, Chris reflected on a recent example.

He didn't want to go into too much detail, as he thought everyone in Thargo would be able to figure out who the patient was, but said when he assessed this particular person's condition he nearly had a "heart attack" himself.

"In times like that you fall back on your training," he said.

When asked whether this patient made a full recovery and if he had thanked him for the care.

"Oh yes, he took me out yabbying and showed me his secret spots," he said with a smile.

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