I was a casual on call hospital wardsman from September 2002 to February 2006 at the Royal Brisbane/Women’s Hospital.
On the 12th of October 2002 a terrorist attack killed 202 people from over 20 countries in Bali. Two suicide bombers positioned themselves at nightspots The Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar while a remote bomb was detonated outside the American consulate. In what remains the largest loss of Australian life due to a terrorist attack 88 Australians were killed.
Hundreds more were wounded, in the largest aero medical evacuation carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force since the Vietnam War 66 survivors were flown to Darwin within the first 24 hours of the bomb blast. Some were transported further on from Darwin.
I had not been in the job for a month when I met two of survivors of the Bali bombings.
When I began work at the hospital there had been construction of several new buildings, the Ned Hanlon Building was the main one and the maternity ward on level six and the special care nursery on level five were already operating there. There was also X-Ray on level three.
The RBH as it was for me growing up still stood but we were in the process of moving and opening up new wards in the new building. One ward at the old building was set up to receive patients coming down from Darwin from originally Bali.
I was working evening shifts 2:30pm to 10:30pm. One night I was paged to go up to that ward, it was to be my first experience dealing with young patients that I would see naked and burns victims. I was 21 and didn’t know how I would react, I was a little nervous.
I came in and was instructed to put on a green robe. I did bed turns with two patients as the nurse cleaned and dressed them. One was an older gentlemen, one was a blonde haired woman in her mid 20s.
I found to my surprise I was not embarrassed by the nudity even in a young member of the opposite sex nor was I horrified by the burns.
I was there to do a job and was concentrating on doing it right.
Having the nurse helped too, I just did as she told me. I do remember seeing black poking out from under bandages wrapped around hands. I remember the redness all over the skin of the woman’s torso.
I would go on to deal with worse burns victims. I remember thinking the gown was more a precaution given it didn’t seem to get that messy compared to some patient handling I had already experienced. Of course it was for their protection as well.
I remember talking to the female patient, she was a member of the Australian Federal Police. I assumed she had been in Bali on holidays but didn’t ask.
That first month at the hospital I worked full time hours before deciding I couldn’t balance it and my studies. I did work the rest of the week in that area but I never got called back to that ward.
I oddly found some comfort and took some pride in those few minutes of doing bed turns. My country had endured its worst terrorist attack in history and I had been given an opportunity, however small, to help the survivors directly.
I never had to worry about my own safety the way current health care workers have and will during this pandemic crisis.
Many have and will get COVID-19 because there isn’t enough equipment to protect them.
Some of them are going to die because there won’t be enough equipment to save them when they get sick.
They’re running into the jaws of death right now for us.
To help us.
To save us.
I stand in awe of them.