By Rachel Ashton
This article is an excerpt from Bye Molly, Bye Tony. Bye Honkey. Bye Canteen Creek, first published at The Scribbling Nurse, on 11 April 2018 here.
Canteen Creek was an experience and a massive culture shock for me. 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 (RANs). 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.
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!!).
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.
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.
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.
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’. One morning Tony he picked a fight with a neighbourhood dog and hurt his back foot slightly, with 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.
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.
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.
Right now, I feel humbled…fortunate. The genuine support I have received from the Alice Springs Centre for Remote Health, Tennant Creek Hospital staff, Charles Darwin University 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.
Rachel Ashton is finishing her Bachelor of Nursing with Charles Darwin University. She documents her experiences traveling across Australia as she learns more and more about the profession she is joining. Visit her blog at https://thescribblingnurse.com/.