Archive for the 'planes' Category

Hard day’s work

New Zealand has about 4 million or so people in it. About 3 million live in the north island, more than a million of those live in Auckland and are known as JAFAs which is a rather uncomplimentary abbrevaiton that I’ll not go into. About a million or so live in the south island, half of whom live in Christchurch.

So it would seem sensible that the island with a quarter of the population gets to have the spinal surgery unit. At least someone thought it was a good idea when they put the Burwood spinal unit in Christchurch. If I was the family member of someone with a spinal injury then I’d feel ticked off if I was a north islander. Thankfully I’m not.

The one advantage, there may be more, of this set up that it gives me free flights to Christchurch to transfer our patients with broken backs to them. I doubt this was what they were thinking when they designed the system.

So at 0705 on the 6/12/06 Mr W, for no apparent reason cycled into the back of a parked lorry, breaking his breast bone, causing bleeding beside his heart and broke his spine, causing spinal cord damage.


At 0705 on the 6/12/06 I’m fast asleep, having woke briefly, and realising it’s my day off I’ve crawled back under the covers and am dreaming of sunsets and falling down.

At 1500 I get a phone call from my boss while I’m lying on my bum reading and it’s my boss ringing to see if I fancy taking Mr W to Christchurch in the morning. I arrive in work at 0630 and get things set. He’s conscious and in reasonable form, and he’s got no chest drains and isn’t on a ventilator – the pressure changes at altitude can make that type of thing tricky so at least this is an easy one.

We get an ambulance to the airport and get on a Cessna type plane with three seats and room for a stretcher. In an airplane with a patient you can pretty much see their chest going up and down as they breathe but that’s about the height of what you can do. If they got sick then I wouldn’t fancy trying to do anything too advanced at 3000m. so the idea is to only transfer ‘stable’ patients.

I’m in my ridiculous oversized flight suit, which makes me look more like the Michelin man than super man – which was presumably the desired image. At least it’s got plenty of pockets.

We take off with clear blue skies and I can see Mt ruapehu in the centre of the north island, all the way across to Taranaki (the mountain for the backdrop in the Last Samurai) on the west coast all in one vista. I pinch myself and remember that they actually pay me for this kind of thing.

Half way flying down the north island, the battery in my camera runs out. Gutted. The cabin service on the flight is pretty marginal, given that there is none. Cathy, the flight nurse is prepare enough to bring a snack and a bottle of water. I think about pancakes a lot.

You can feel the temperature change as we cross the cook strait, a high grey haze obscures the sunlight and I can see all the way from the Kaikouras to the Southern Alps (or the misty mountains as you may know them).

It takes about 2 hours to fly north to south and Mr W sleeps the whole way there. I consider it and then I think it’s kind of irresponsible. We land smoothly in Christchurch and an ambulance picks us up. Cathy looks after the patient and to be honest I just carry is two suitcases and lap top. Like a reject from top guun in an oversized flight suit who’s taken up portering to make ends meet.

We arrive in the ICU in Christchurch and hand over to a Scots doc who works with one of my mates who I trained with back home. The world is indeed a small place. We get a free cup of tea and some toast (non-stop glamour lifestyle I know) from the ICU staff and then we’re back to the plane.

Flying over the country on the way back I doze off occasionally into a guilt free bliss. Staring out the window at this vast and wonderfully pretty country I keep thinking that it was here for thousands of years before the Maoris even turned up in the 15 th century. It was full of bizarre flightless 9ft birds that made easy meals for humans with pointy sticks. Must have been amazing to travel the empty and virgin country. Then I realsised that they wouldn’t have a pressurised Cessna to travel in and that you’d have to walk it all yourself.

“Too much like hard work” I thought as I drifted off.

The Journey (Part 2)

I left you at 30 000 feet, didn’t I? Time flies (boom boom, will try not to make too may ludicrous travel puns…) when you’re having fun. And long-haul flights are fun for me.

Uneventful enough flight. Tried to serve us fish for breakfast.

Kuala lumpur (genius name) airort is one of those shiny, spanking new airports, in the shape of a starfish or badly counted cross. Lots of fun if you’re a kid or you’re not but can get away with it. I didn’t.

Had a wonderfully free wi-fi network so I could skype home to the parentals, though I think the several hundred people using it slowed it down a tad.

At this point (in malaysia) i’m tired and smelly and my phone is running low on battery and I haven’t had brekkie (flippin fish). To the redcue comes a business lounge you can buy youself into (for 12 quid) for 5 hrs with food, drinks, internet, papers and showers thrown in. I kind of took the mick with the food bit…

Shower felt so good, and then the massage… No wait there was no massage, i’m delirious now.

So next flight. I could pretend it was this crazy, unique experience full of laughs and adventure. But really it was just the same as the previous one with slightly better leg room. And they tried to offer us fish again for brekkie, what’s with these people…

And so now… I’m on a bus from Aukland to Tokoroa where I’m staying with a mate’s uncle. And this is now ‘home’. Funny when I think of that. The scary bit was arriving and realising I don’t know anybody here, that i’ve never been in this place before. I don’t know how to get things done, I don’t know how to pronounce the names.

So this’ll never be home, maybe ‘home’ but no more. But this is kind of the point. We’re all meant to be homeless, we’re all meant to be passing through. It’s ok for the world – it’s all there is for them. But for us these are just temporary dwellings.

It’s always missionary kids who show me this, with their parents in one part of the world, their siblings elsewhere, landed with unidentifiable accents. They’re all homeless or at least rootless. Like everything pros and cons, I know. But useful lesosn to keep in my head.

I left portadown at 3pm on monday. It’s now 3pm wednesday and i’m still not there yet. Yesterday was a sort of pseudo day. Travelling forward in time and going through 24 hrs but only experiencing 12. People talk of jet lag, which i’ve never understood. You spend 48 hrs living in the same pants and not cleaning your teeth (air malaysia don’t provide wee toothbrushes – most disappointed), eating processed food, sleeping in the most bizzare positions and that for only 10 mins at a time… I’m too tired for jet lag. Maybe it’s a yuppie thying…

The Journey (Part 1)

Gate 7, terminal 3, heathrow airport. Very hungry.

So the great adventure begins. Tearful, difficult farewells done (sorry ma and da, for leaving and all that, I will come back…), and a flight from belfast done.

And it was a good flight. Now usually i’m a ‘shut up and don’t talk to me’ type of passenger. But i was in chipper mood so I was determined to talk the life out of someone.

And so Bob (name concealed cause I kinda know lots of people that know him, and that’s not fair) sat down beside me. And in no time we were chatting about travelling and me going to NZ and his travels round the world.

And I already had a blog forming in my head (i always have a blog semi-forming somewhere), about some guy who was a clicheed traveller, bitter about a relationship and jacking in his job to ‘discover himself’ on a round the world journey and live ‘the life’.

You meet people like this all the time when you travel, whose conversation is all about them, all about where they’ve been and the cool stuff they’ve done. Stories where they always end up the coolest. I know this because I do this (love the fight club reference…) and I am one of these people. I have a blog pretty much finished in my head.

The conversation then changed to money. This is a very successful guy, running business and handling literally millions, now off to set up a new business in italy. This is a guy who has it made, who loves the buzz of making and selling money, the buzz of business. I tell my usual story of how I love the buzz of work and trauma and all that. I tell him that life and death is fine (which isn’t strictly true) but I could never run my own business (which is very much true – money scares me).

He then tells me (people tell me stuff, I know not why, if nothing else maybe i’m good at listening) about relationships and christianity and drifting, and all of a sudden i’m not making a cynical blog about someone I think I know, i’m talking of bible verses and prayer.

Random situations that you end up in. Not that they’re in any way random. An encouraging start to the trip I must say.

And so things shift, it’s no longer terminal 3, heathrow, it’s 36355 ft, 3774 km from London, somewhere over the caspian sea (a great black hole in my geography) or so. Seat 41 J (darn middle seats) between howie and phil (who know no one I know) who are travelling to malaysia as part of a moto gp team. Phil makes sure all the parts are there and Howie does the mechanicing (another should be word).

But they’re not talkers, in fact they’re fast asleep, so there’s little chat. I’ve been fed – I love airplane food, all the little packets and all. Can’t beat it. And i’ve got one and a bit films in me (the sentinel – with kiefer sutherland being jack bauer if only by a different name. And a bit of king arthur – despite being terrible had lots of people being killed as a redeeming feature), the half being the half of king arthur till they turned off the entertainment system – I know not why, though I am the only passenger still awake that I can see, so maybe theyr’re trying to force me to sleep.

I can feel my ankles swelling and DVTs forming, my head hurts from the constant throb of the engines or ventilation or whatever the constant throb in jumbos is. It’s 2am by my watch (and my body) though i’ve no idea what time it is where i’m going. I arrive there at 5pm local time (whatever that is), so work it out.

I have tunes, if not then i’d be poking howie awake for a chat about twin stroke engines, and neither of us want that.


August 2022