Adventure is Danny O’Neill’s middle name. His career as a nurse has taken him to places far and wide and certainly out of his comfort zone. But the rewards both professionally and personally have been worth it, and he’s now enjoying a sea change at Port.
> You’re a transitional nurse practitioner at the Port Base Hospital and a reservist for the Australian Airforce. You’re just back from Exercise ‘Talsmen Sabre’. Tell us a little bit about the exercise and your role.
It was basically a joint exercise between Australian and US forces to look at military capabilities. It’s done every couple of years, and it’s the largest exercise that is run.
Our role was to look at our capabilities with the U.S. forces in terms of aeronautical evacuations, so to test that capability and run scenarios and simulation training for the intensive care teams that operate in a retrieval environment.
> What is the role of the intensive care teams?
The team is made up of a doctor and a nurse, what we call an MCAT team. They look after one seriously injured patient, normally a ventilated patient or one that is very unwell. The C17 Globemaster is the main platform for the Airforce for serious injured patients.
You can have 2 or 3 teams on board one flight, depending on how sick the patient is. You would have equipment such as ventilators, syringe pumps, monitors, all in the aircraft. The aircraft can take
walk-in wounded as well, so there is also capability for seating and cargo and other equipment – it is pretty big inside.
It can hold about 60 people comfortably, as well as cargo. There’s a C130 that we also use, but the C17 is the main one used for the intensive care environment.
> You work alongside the Americans. How does the Australian Airforce equipment compare to theirs, and what are they like to work with?
It’s the same, because the equipment is standardised and identical. We use the same ventilators and the same kit, so we can basically walk on to their aircraft and use their equipment and vice versa. The Americans themselves are very energetic and very interested in Australians and our country. They are a great bunch to work with.
> Were there any particularly exciting moments during this exercise?
The tactical flying we were doing was awesome. We were flying about 500 ft off the ground, which is pretty low for an aircraft of that size. There were a few people feeling a bit sick as we did the tactical manoeuvres.
It was a bit of fun in the air. There was some ‘play dog’ fighting with our other aircraft as well, so we were flung about a bit in the aircraft. The pilot wanted to see what we would do; I think they like to tease the medical teams a little bit with the evasive manoeuvres.
> You are originally from the UK. Why did you move to Australia?
A sea change and lifestyle change was the main reason to move, to get out of the gloom and wet weather. I came to Port Macquarie in particular because of the job at the hospital. We were definitely attracted to the beach and the lifestyle here.
> You were also deployed to Iraq when you were full time with the UK Defence Force. What was that experience like?
We were the first medical facility as part of the ground war, and we were the first field hospital to be deployed in the country. Our campaign was to look after all the allied forces during the initial ground invasion. My role was as nursing officer in the emergency department, so managing all the casualties that came through, as well as some retrieval work. We looked after civilians and locals as well.
It was quite an historic moment to be there, to say you were involved with the initial push. There was a lot of anxiety while we were there waiting for the ‘push’ to go over the border. There was obviously high tension, as people just wanted to get on and do their jobs. I was with a great bunch of doctors and nurses, who were all keen. Most of our emotions were anticipation and wondering what was going to come through the door, not knowing what was ahead. When the patients started to come through, everyone switched on and did their jobs.
> Do you feel like all these experiences make you a better nurse practitioner?
I think they do, yes … particularly for managing trauma and stressful environments. You learn to manage things a lot easier when you come out of the military. Civilian stuff is fairly tame compared to the military environment.
> How do you detach yourself emotionally from a patient?
You have to be focused on your training and what you’re there to do. The main focus is obviously to save lives and do what you can.
There is always an element of emotional attachment somewhere in what you’re doing, but you have to be able to focus and manage that patient and not get bogged down. Otherwise, you can’t do your job properly – particularly when you have multiple patients coming through.
> What’s the most unusual event over the course of your career?
I was asked to give antivenom to a policeman’s dog, which had been bitten by a snake around 2am at Ayers Rock. Not something you expect in the middle of the night!
I rang the vet in Alice Springs for advice and infused the dog, which luckily survived. The policeman was very happy – and there were no speeding tickets for me any more!
> Thank you Danny.