REFLECTING: Director of Intensive Care Dr David Austin looking at photos of one of his sailing adventures.
REFLECTING: Director of Intensive Care Dr David Austin looking at photos of one of his sailing adventures. Allan Reinikka ROK190816aaustin1

Teamwork the cog in the Rocky ICU wheel

IT'S 6am. Dr David Austin's alarm has just gone off. You'd expect to hear a groan, or see a roll over, but you don't.

He has one of the most challenging jobs in the world, yet there is not a day that goes by where he doesn't look forward to work.

 

The director of intensive care at the Rockhampton Hospital deals with life and death on a daily basis yet it is an undertaking he welcomes.

"Work is quite difficult. When we are on call, we do struggle. You don't get very much sleep," Dr Austin said.

"You are constantly aware, sitting there waiting for the phone. Every finds it hard to complete a shift.

"But I love my job, there is a challenge every day and something new every day.

"Not a day goes by when I get up and think, 'I don't want to go into work'."

But how do you switch off after a patient has not survived? How do you escape the stress of a 72-hour shift.

In short, you don't.

"Healthcare is a team sport. And we have a fantastic team in Rocky," the former Burnell-Jose prize winner said.

"We have the nurses, the doctors, the physios, the pharmacists, the social workers all joining our ward, all contribute and all are valued.

"But you always remember the really sick patients. And you never forget the ones that don't survive."

He remembers his worst patient vividly.

"The hardest patients are the incredibly sick children and the ones who don't survive. The worst one we had was just terrible, because it could happen to anyone," he said.

"A family was away camping and when they were leaving they backed over the youngest child.

"The 18-month-old child came into the emergency department but we couldn't save the child. and that was terrible, absolutely awful.

"But it is part of the job."

 

Dr Austin manning his yacht competing in the two-man race around the New Zealand north island.
Dr Austin manning his yacht competing in the two-man race around the New Zealand north island.

Away from the hospital, his home is at sea.

A sailor for 51 of his 55 years, he has been the doctor on board for the Sydney to Hobart, the Auckland to Fiji, a crew member for an around the world race and the currently New Zealand medical director for yachting. But the one that comes the closest to the challenges of work, is the two-man race around the New Zealand North Island.

"I've done that twice and it is the hardest. Two guys sailing a massive yacht meant for 14 people, you get about three hours sleep a day, for 17 days," he said.

"I love sailing. You are so busy you don't have the ability to think about work stresses or anything else and that is the best thing. It is so involved physically and mentally it is a complete break."

 

David and colleagues at the Mt Everest base camp in 1995.
David and colleagues at the Mt Everest base camp in 1995.

Dr Austin's thirst for a challenge has no limits. Underwater, air retrieval, alpine rescue and Mt Everest expeditions.

"I climbed a mountain close to Everest, 23,000 feet up, that was tough," he said.

"We went to Nepal and I was involved in Youth to Everest where we help out the Sherpa population.

"We help set up libraries, medical clinics, solar panels, rubbish collection programs. We took six tonnes of rubbish away in the first year.

"Mentally none of those things are a big challenge. Not next to a day being at work.

"That is why I do what I do."



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