Saving lives in the air with Leisl Moffat
Jasper: Can you tell us about an emergency retrieval you’ve done?
Leisl: A teenager who lived on a remote station that is over 5 hours drive to the closest doctor in Broken Hill fell off his motorbike and broke his femur badly. Because he had been knocked unconscious during the accident, we were worried he might have injured his head or internal organs as well. We flew to the dirt airstrip on his property, gave him medicine to help with the pain, stabilised his leg and checked him for other injuries. Then we flew him to Adelaide for surgery to fix his leg.
Jasper: Wow! What’s it like to do intensive care on a plane compared to in a hospital?
Leisl: It’s extremely different to working in a hospital Intensive Care Unit. The aircraft is fitted with two stretchers and three seats. It has most of the same equipment you will find in a hospital ICU, including ventilators, patient monitoring equipment and enough needles, tubes and medications. However, we are faced with challenges including turbulence, weather, air traffic delays and noise from the aircraft.
Jasper: What happens to the patients if the pilot says it is too dangerous to fly due to bad weather?
Leisl: We brainstorm the best way to provide care to the patient. An aircraft at a different location might be able to get to them. If the patient is not too far away, we have an ambulance that can drive them to the closest hospital or clinic. Some of these clinics even have video cameras so we can see the patient on the laptop. It’s these situations where you need to get creative and “think outside the box”.
Jasper: What was it like when you flew your first rescue?
Leisl: There was a lot of turbulence so it was very bumpy. I was in Broken Hill, so the temperature was well into the 40s. The only thing I remember was feeling so sick and holding on very tight to a vomit bag. I’ve obviously come a long way since then!
Jasper: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a flight nurse?
Leisl: I was retrieving a lady from a small clinic with a 30 minute flight time. Twenty minutes into the flight she told me she needed to go to the toilet and couldn’t hold on anymore, so I helped her onto the paper bedpan that we use as a toilet. But it was very late at night, she was very tired and it was a little bit turbulent. She accidentally tipped the whole pan full of wee into the aisle of the plane. The worst part was that when we landed I had to call the engineers to check that the wee hadn’t tipped over any important electrical equipment in the plane. I don’t think they found it very funny being called in to help me clean out the plane at 2am!
Jasper: What are some of the more challenging parts of your job and how do you overcome them?
Leisl: Working in a very small team or by yourself can be a big challenge. When a patient is very sick, you feel like you need to be an octopus just to have enough hands to get the jobs done. This is why we do lots of training so we can learn to do all of our jobs quickly and efficiently and focus on getting the patient where they need to be. It’s very loud on the plane so communicating with the patient, the pilot and the doctor can be difficult. To overcome this, we wear noise cancelling headphones and communicate using an intercom system.
Jasper: What qualifications and experience do you need to be a flight nurse?
Leisl: You need to be both a Registered Nurse and a Registered Midwife to work as a flight nurse. You also need to have experience and qualifications working in an Emergency Department or Intensive Care Unit.
Help support the RFDS: Did you know that the RFDS relies on donations to cover much of the costs of their planes and equipment? Check out their website to see how you and your school can support RFDS.
Read more about being a nurse with RFDS.