Post by Shy Ted
Was the name we’d give to, usually, new nursing graduates who had applied for and been appointed to their first positions in remote Aboriginal communities. Really we called them the “one dayers” because that’s how long some of them lasted but we shortened it to “the wonders”.
Arriving, as they say, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but hopelessly naive they had been appointed to fill shortages when experienced candidates were in short supply. We old timers knew what would happen as did the region or district responsible for health services there. Routinely they would arrive on a weekend and be picked up from the airport, shepherded and oriented to town and instructed to only go out accompanied by other staff for the first week. As a rule the graduates know everything about everything and don’t take to these instructions kindly, intent on breaking down barriers and every other such nonsense that has been pumped into them for the last three years. “Just get settled in today, we’ll take you to the supermarket, maybe you want to come fishing tomorrow”, or similar. If they don’t heed the advice everybody keeps an eye open. In these places, 99.9% of the time, nothing happens. They can be deadly dull.
So why do they fail on the first day of work? Some true stories.
W was a 22 year old female nurse, bright and enthusiastic, raring to go, shadowing the clinic nurse on Monday. 7 year old Aboriginal girl brought in by teachers – “she’s scratching down there”. STD check. As usual the clinic camera was flat, photographic evidence is used for prosecutions, and rather than wait a few minutes for a partial charge, enthusiastic young thing says she has a camera in her bag, produces same and allows it to be used for the syphilitic chancre to be snapped. Downloaded onto the work computer, camera returned. W is shocked by all this, uni hadn’t told her about the realities of life in these places and seems preoccupied as she is walked through the various reporting requirements – Police, STD health, infectious diseases, child protection. Nurse in charge asks her if she’d like to do the blood test. Prepares equipment appropriately and, using her best childlike voice, says what she’s going to do and asks her to be a brave girl.
“Come near me with that needle and I’ll stab ya with it ya white cnut”. W is gobsmacked.
Clinic nurse takes over, pops a lolly on the desk, “that’s yours after you’ve had the blood test. It’ll hurt a bit but only takes a few seconds”. Procedure completed, lolly happily sucked on. Phone call to the doctor. Oral antibiotics to be dispensed and given daily by the local sexual health team and documented as observed to have been taken. Little hub of activity as everyone kicks in to do their bit of the job.
There’s a steady flow of “routine” clinic presentations but W remains shaken though settles down as the day progresses. “You did OK” as she departs for the day.
That evening she downloads all the photos she took over the weekend but the clinic shot is still on the camera. After downloading she reviews the kangaroos, birds, scenery and the clinic shot. It is shocking seeing these things, especially for the first time. W doesn’t get a wink of sleep and when the clinic nurse knocks on her door the next morning, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this, I want to leave”.
“OK, I’ll call in at lunchtime, see how you’re going”.
HR in the region are advised and options are offered. At lunchtime clinic nurse calls back. Red-eyed, tremulous still she reiterates her earlier call. “The region is happy to relocate you to … where you will have a job on the medical ward, find your feet and all that. But you have to decide quickly. Stay and accept this place for what it is or out on the next plane tomorrow”. She’s on the plane.
X was very similar to Y, going to make her mark. First day shock of the reality of what she has come to but copes. Mid afternoon she has to take the clinic Landcruiser for a couple of home visits, blood pressures, medications and such. All done, returns to the clinic and someone has parked in the clinic car parking space. Reverses into a spare space carefully but children are playing and one of them runs into the car. Nobody’ fault, child not injured but culturally this is a big no no. Angry parents, distressed kids. “What have I done?” Into the clinic with the child and parent, doors locked. News goes round the town like wildfire. Child fine. Community unrest. Police take Y into safe custody, a night in the lockup. Various liaison people try to quell things but the community has spoken. X on next flight out, job in the region. It’s just the way it is.
Y was a graduate with several years experience but a bit of reputation, for unclear reasons, but nobody knows quite what. Different community and he has decided to drive in, lots of stuff in his ute. Arrives late Sunday, tired, unpacks a couple of suitcases but that’s all, the nurses compound is secure. It’s not that secure and is broken into by a couple of local lads who know what they’re looking for. Car entry is easy if you’re practised and there they are, a suitcase full of full 2L wine bladders. Thank you very much. A few hours later half the town is very drunk and it’s on. Busy night for the cops, nurse on call busy bandaging and suturing. “You know it’s a dry community, don’t you?” cops ask Y, who nods. “Probably better if you head off”. And after he packs his ute he’s escorted to the town limits and the cops watch as he drives off. It’s not mentioned again but all the white fellas have a knowing smile. Don’t get caught. Peace returns.
Z was a relatively new graduate but in her thirties and with a couple of remote communities under her belt though not as a nurse. She brought with her her pet dog, might have been a Beagle. At lunchtime she popped home and it had found a way out and disappeared. Panic. Quick scout, no sign. “Think I saw it heading off that way”, offered the indeterminate-age Aboriginal clinic cleaner, F. Reliable as, slow and steady, 20 years in the job.
“It’s not very busy, take an hour, take the Landy and see if it’s up there”.
It wasn’t as best she could see. In her panic Z returned to the clinic and asked F if he could go with her to look as he knew where. Didn’t ask anyone, they just went. No dog, it returned later of it’ own accord having had a wonderful time doing what dogs do. I was very surprised at what happened next because almost everyone was indisputable Aboriginal they lived a completely Western lifestyle. Word spread very quickly and it landed at the door of the Director of Nursing. Z was now “promised” to F. The DoN was my neighbour in a duplex, very experienced and was had had a good laugh that the unspoken words that went through our minds most often were “FFS”, quite independently. This was a FFS moment. Quiet word with Z, leave or get wed. The region picked up the pieces. The cleaner carried on as thought nothing had happened.
The DoN had his own near miss. Same community. The previous DoN had left on the Friday, new one started on Monday. Last thing Friday the police had asked for a favour. A cow from the local head man’ herd had been killed and eaten, all that remained was a carcass. Head man wanted offenders charged or he would handle the matter himself! Easily located, this was evidence and had to be preserved and it would either rot in the sun or be kept in the hospital morgue. Old DoN had to approve or not but it was a no-brainer. Over the weekend one of the locals died and also went to the morgue but in the absence of a senior clinician nothing had been logged. 9.30am on new DoN’ first day, family wanted to view the body. Procedure manuals out, nothing in the morgue log it was pot luck. Pulled open the first fridge door, a cow carcass. DoN and family mutually horrified. “This is my exit” were his thoughts. The head man intervened and everything was settled quietly with a sizeable contribution from the local canteen (pub) happily paid for by the cops and the DoN. Normally every agency would have to file an incident report but the higher echelons respond so stupidly with new policies and procedures rather than just accepting this is the way things are that sometimes procedure is overlooked. You work the rest of your time knowing this breach hangs over your head and upsetting the wrong person or people can land you in serious strife.
People leave these places suddenly, often with “family emergency” as the reason. You don’t know what has actually happened but rumours abound. There are so many unwritten rules and, quite frankly, invented “cultural breaches” that you wonder how some people stay so long, sometimes decades. You get better at playing the game and there is many a joy to be had out there that you miss when you return to civilisation and can’t find a parking space or receive a speeding ticket for 5km/h over the limit. I once went 10 years without encountering a roundabout or traffic light. I’d completely forgotten what to do. It was really stressful.