Hello from my comforting friend Tennant Creek. It’s so lovely to be back here after my adventure in Canteen Creek.
Where to start? I know, the itchy bites on my legs are driving me crazy. I don’t know if it’s the flies or the mozzies but I can’t wait for them to disappear! Okay, got that out the way.
Canteen Creek was an experience and a massive culture shock for me. As I discussed in my last blog, I have changed. I have learnt so much in the two and a half weeks I was in Canteen Creek working alongside two highly experienced and great fun Remote Area Nurses (RAN’s). I have learnt to treat a person and look past their choices both to themselves and their loved ones. Be beneficent. It is human nature to judge and compare people’s life choices with your own. Compare the way they were raised and the skills they were taught against your own life skills and family culture.
But I, as a nurse, am trained and hold dear the belief of serving the community. I am trained to educate people and support them in the health and wellness. And I enjoyed doing just that in Canteen Creek.
As well as working alongside Cassie and Sini in the clinic, one of the highlights was providing influenza vaccinations to people in the community straight out of the ambulance on the sides of the roads and even at the front of the local store! We filled an esky with pre-filled fluvax syringes, swabs, sharps container, gloves, teeny bandaids and an anaphylactic kit and trawled the streets jabbing everyone who came within arm’s length of Sini and I (with their permission of course!!).
Flu jab ready!
Sini still smiling through the torment of the flies!
Our ‘clinic’ for the day!
At one point, we had a group of women sitting with us outside the store who identified people coming past who hadn’t had their flu jab. When each person had their jab, we’d all chorus loudly “Woohoo! Next!”
Cassie gave me as many opportunities to practice skills and knowledge as possible, always with practical “have a look at this and tell me what you see”. Following that was an explanation about what the condition was, how it came about and how it can be treated. I also got to have a go at certain tasks (within my scope of practice as a student RN) like centrifuging blood tests (putting them in the whizzing machine), performing heaps of intramuscular injections, using the online computer data entry system and generally being a member of the health care team. Sini was very patient with me, often in her side of the clinic, fumbling about and asking questions I really should have known the answer to… “Do you draw back on every IM?”
I loved sitting in the staff-room listening to Cassie and Sini talk about their nursing experiences. Cassie with her sharp wit and acute observations (with a ‘she says what we all think’ technique) and Sini’s laid -back, tongue-in-cheek recounts of life in a busy ED and remote clinics. Laughter was welcomed in this place.
One evening I was pouring myself some iced-tea and thought to myself “gee this stuff looks like urine”. Then an idea for a prank came over me. I snuck a urine specimen container home and filled it halfway with the iced tea marking the container with the word ‘trick’ (to ensure I wouldn’t confuse it with a real urine specimen! – unless a patient’s name was Trick, then that would serve me right). I smuggled it into the clinic in my pocket and waited for an opportune time. Then it came. Cassie had just seen a patient who had provided a urine specimen. Cassie left it on the bench asking me to ‘test for leucs’ (dipstick testing for leucocytes amongst other things) then she turned back to her computer. I pulled the fake urine from my pocket, opened the lid and walked up to Cassie saying “This wee looks a bit weird…”. Cassie turned and looked just as I sniffed it and took a sip! Cassie’s face lost all colour and her expression went from disbelief to horror to disgust in the matter of seconds! Her hands reached out trying to pull my arm away from my mouth while she spurted out all the possible diseases I could catch by drinking someone else urine! It was amazing that even in such a bizarre and revolting few seconds, she was still able to list communicable diseases spread via urine! I stopped and through my laughter told her it was iced tea, I had brought it from home to prank her. Relief washed over her face and today, after recovering, she said the prank was ‘hilarious’ – phew!
The clinic was often busy but I never felt useless or out of my depth. Cassie was acutely aware of what I could and couldn’t do but also taught me so my knowledge would expand during my placement. This might sound like an obvious thing to happen but as other nurses and nursing students would know, some clinical placements are as boring as batshit because you don’t learn anything or everything is outside your scope so you can’t do much anyway. Or the worst, there is nothing new to learn.
I was invited to stay on at Canteen Creek for the remainder of my time in the NT however, after discussion with the Centre for Remote Health placement coordinator Jessie, it was decided I should experience as much as I can in the NT so will go on to Ntaria clinic in another Aboriginal community called Hermannsburg about an hour outside Alice Springs. I am looking forward to that and my day trip to Uluru.
After my first night at Canteen Creek, I was moved to another house which was really lovely with brand new recliners and was generally more comfy. I was visited one afternoon by a donkey who stood at my front glass sliding door staring straight inside. I poked a carrot through the crack wondering if he might then leave. No such luck. Honkey (as I named him) stood and waited. I was unsure if he may nip me should I try to get past him so I rang my colleague to walk to my place and shoo him away. Honkey visited a few more times, pushing my gate open with his nose and waltzing on in. I no longer felt nervous around him so often stood next to him feeding him carrots and feeling sorry for his weepy fly-blown eyes and small open wounds. He looked sad but I don’t think he was; when we left Canteen Creek today, he trotted gleefully past my house with a pretty dark haired female donkey (known as a jenny, or jennet) in hot pursuit!
Molly visited often and so did Tony. Tony is the little black dog with the stumpy tail but since one of Sini’s dogs was also called Stumpy, I renamed the little black community dog Tony.
Tony is an odd little character. He showed no affection and engaged in very little interaction yet liked to quietly be around us. He always came along when we went for a walk and seemed to enjoy being a part of our odd ‘family’. He did have a bad habit of picking fights with the other community dogs, often relying on Molly to step-in and put out the fire. One morning Tony got cocky and picked a fight when Molly was nowhere to be seen. He had his back foot hurt slightly, some hair pulled out of his head and his left ear bitten. Unfortunately his left ear became infected, and combined with the red dirt and ticks plaguing the little guy, he was in a sorry state. There are no vets in Canteen Creek so I played vet as much as I could, picking off the revolting ticks and gently bathing Tony’s ear with all I had; wet-wipes and warm water.
Tony seemed to know he was getting helped and sat quietly while I carefully wiped away pus and red mud. I am buying flea and tick treatment tomorrow and sending it back with Sini to give to Tony and Molly. She will also bathe his ear and apply iodine if possible. He will always be a community dog but he is our community dog and I know the other nurses who come to Canteen Creek will care for him and Molly because they have in the past. As Sini and I drove back into Tennant Creek today, I told Sini I wished Tony and Molly were in the back coming as well and not being left there. I left two large bags of dog biscuits at the nurses house for them which Sini will ask the other nurse coming on to continue to feed them. Typing this, I have tears in my eyes but I know that Sini and the other nurses who visit Canteen Creek will care for the both of them just as well as they care for humans.
Sometimes it’s not the nursing or study that is hard, it can be other factors of life in remote communities. The home-sickness. The yearning to hug your own pets back home and tell them they will never ever be neglected or unfed. The flies. The lack of activities we are often accustomed to in bigger towns/cities.
But what this placement, in particular, has taught me is appreciation for what I have, how I was raised and the skills I have and am learning. The skills I can use to help others and hopefully teach a whole new generation. And those people passing it onto the next generation. And the one after.
This blog was going to be a ‘this is what I did and these are the photos I took’ but right now, I feel humbled…fortunate. I look around at the house I am staying in, the house the Centre for Remote Health have generously let me stay in again because I arrived in Tennant Creek early. The genuine support I have received from the CRH, Tennant Creek Hospital staff, CDU and the amazing remote health clinic staff. I think back to the precious faces of the little kids and babies I cuddled and helped treat in Canteen Creek and I hope they will grow up strong and fortunate. I hope they do.
Take care and thank you for reading my blog.
Thorny devil outside the clinic
Me waiting for the mail plane
Kurundi store at the station
Agnes’ painting I bought
Another painting I bought
Necklace I bought
Sugar-free cake by Cassie
Tiny bit of a rainbow!