Lynda Tracey is a contented woman sitting in the lunchroom of her Kaitaia work place. She’s had a crack at 25 years of life that was close to being stripped away on November 17, 1988. The young Pamapuria mother woke up feeling crook, but thought she’d be okay later. Husband Arthur took their three month-old baby to his Mum’s in town and dropped their three and five year-olds off to friends until Lynda felt better. Neither thought it’d be for long. By that evening as the Kaitaia hospital car park was cleared to make way for a helicopter – headlights of the fire brigade and police revealing the makeshift landing strip for an 8pm arrival – medical staff feared for Lynda’s life.
Her symptoms of a cardiac episode simply weren’t ringing true. Something was seriously wrong and unbeknown to Lynda, she was fast slipping away. To say she was in danger territory was a big understatement. Just two days into its existence, Northland’s first and (at that time) only Electricity Rescue Helicopter was about to complete life-saving mission number one.
Skip forward a quarter of a century and Lynda is yarning to Robyn Revington – the charge nurse on duty at Kaitaia Hospital that day. They’ve become close friends in the years since but the reality of Lynda’s plight is still clear to see. Says Lynda: “I was fine one day with just a bit of a sniffle then I woke up early the next day and with every breath I had a shooting pain down near my stomach. Arthur made an appointment with the doctor at 1pm and on arrival she said, “‘oh my gosh – look at you’”. They sent me straight to hospital, put me in a wheelchair and I just thought that’s a bit ridiculous, I hope no one sees me. “They x-rayed me and were running around in circles. It was quite a mystery as to what was wrong with me.“The bit that really sticks in my mind is when they came in and said they were sending me in a helicopter. All I thought was that there was no way we could ever afford a helicopter ride! I was still conscious and there was one paramedic and myself … no equipment in the helicopter, just really the bare shell.
“On the way to Whangarei the paramedic took my blood pressure and I had to hold the torch. We landed at Kensington and went by ambulance to Whangarei Hospital and I was in ICU for four or five days, before a similar stint in the ward and then back to Kaitaia Hospital. When I was at my worst, my veins had collapsed and they were trying to pump blood out of my foot. “With the helicopter, it was like what’s going on? It just all happens around you. We live on the flight path of the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter and every time it goes past I think, ‘”oh no, what has happened’”. You naturally think it’s not good – even though it is of course. But you wonder who it is. We just have to have this service. It’s essential for Northland and visitors to the region.”
At her side – Robyn’s story
As Robyn Revington, now a Far North Public Health Nurse, describes the situation, she believes that Lynda’s ‘A-Typical Pneumonia was not the normal presentation. More like H1N1 or SARS in fact. Addressing Lynda she explains: “You were shutting down. You were on your way out. That night you deteriorated so quickly. “It was a close call and it’s good to have her around. Prior to the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter, I’d done a trip to Auckland in a Cessna, crouched next to a patient, sitting on the floor of the aircraft.
“When we didn’t have these helicopters, we had to keep people on ancient equipment and transfer them in ambulances, trips that could take at least three hours; we just didn’t have the resources. We just had to do our best and when there were ambulance transfers, we would have to find nurses or doctors to do the transfers when they needed care that extended beyond what we could provide. “We are all connected to the chopper. When I hear it come in my heart stops. It’s about critical care – and it could be family or a friend. It’s about the safety of our people.
“Where people know the level of care coming is above what we simply don’t have in remote rural towns. It’s like the umbilical cord really. “Having the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter coming up here gave us the resources we needed. It changed the stress attached to patients who are unwell. “The biggest difference when you make the comparison between the past 25 years and the 25 years prior to November 1988, is dramatically improved patient safety and providing the best care. “I was on the day Lynda was admitted. She was so young and healthy but she was unwell. I’m so glad so many lives have been saved since and that Lynda is still here with us.”