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Student story: Tess's outback adventure
At first, flooding cuts Tess Wallace off from her clinical placement in Alice Springs Hospital, but after undertaking an outback journey involving joeys, truckers, and mates from her childhood, she finally arrives to a supportive Emergency Team and the ‘spirit of nursing’.
I had the pleasure of completing my last ever nursing placement in Alice Springs. I am from Darwin, studying nursing up here with Charles Darwin University. However, placements are scarce and there are substantial wait times for placement offers.
An opportunity arose where I could complete by the end of 2021 if I was to travel to the desert, where I would be placed in the Emergency Department of Alice Springs Hospital.
My dream is to become an emergency nurse, like my mother, and I could not turn down such an experience, particularly to increase my chances of landing a graduate year in emergency. The placement was amazing, but with so many surprises along the way!
My placement itself began a week late, so I managed to complete four weeks of placement in three. To begin with, lockdown in Darwin and Katherine delayed my drive, but then the floods came!
I pulled into Tennant Creek about 5pm, after leaving Darwin about 8am (best not to do the math!) and was meeting up with a friend from High School who now lives there, working as a Defence Lawyer for Legal Aid.
I sent her a text like “hey, I’m actually doing really well, I might just push through to Alice Springs and catch you on the way back”, to which she responded “girlfriend, you ain’t going anywhere, that place is flooded!”
If it wasn’t for her intel, I probably would have kept going, unaware of the situation! But we had a great, well-overdue catch-up and enjoyed Wok’s Up takeaway at her Aunt’s, while bottle-feeding a rescued Joey. It was a hoot, and I never thought I would have such a night in Tennant Creek!
The next morning, I couldn’t stop smiling on my way to Alice, until I hit the backlog of trucks and cars blocked from the floods – guess it really wasn’t a myth. Speculation about an hour wait, to “any minute now”, to another five hours wait was rampant, so I got out of the little Honda Jazz and trekked all the way to the top of the line – five kilometres!
There I met a bunch of truckies who had been waiting since yesterday with no chance of crossing today – the water was still rising.
They were lovely folk but being a young solo woman out there with no reception, no water, and no camping gear, the offer to camp out with them wasn’t that enticing, so I drove about 200km back up the Stuart Highway to Aileron Roadhouse.
When I got up to the bar, all the rooms were booked out and the place was packed with people aimlessly glaring at each other like “what do we do?” After accepting my fate to sleep in the car in the carpark, I walked back up to the bar and the barman said, “you’re not going to believe it girl, but there is one room that has just become available, and we thought you would be the first to ask.” Enough said!
I took the room and did not arise till 10am the next day – I was exhausted!
I finally made it into Alice Springs about 12:30pm. I was staying with my friend since preschool, who relocated to Alice from Darwin years ago and is now engaged to a lovely lady from Alice.
Staying with them was the making of the trip, for I was able to come home to a comfortable place with people I knew, so the feeling of being away from home wasn’t so strong.
On our days off, we would go hiking around Alice, or visit Glen Helen Gorge for a swim and burger. Given the rains, everything was so lush and green, and I’m glad I got to see this side of Alice. It doesn’t come around often!
Alice Springs Hospital is a great little hospital, and I loved every minute of it! The emergency team is so full of life and supportive. Given the cases that come through those doors, they have a great sense of humour, yet are so skilled and knowledgeable in emergency care, particularly with their scope of care for a rural location.
I have found my passion in emergency nursing, thanks to this placement, and will endeavour to source a graduate year in emergency. Wherever I may be placed, I am sold on emergency!
I feel like every nursing student should do a placement away from home and [I] will make sure I encourage all students to take such an opportunity if it arises. The Alice Springs emergency team is such a young, fun crew, and I felt that ‘spirit of nursing’ my mother always talked about.