LUKE Nottingham's first job in an emergency trauma ward in South Africa was a medical baptism of fire.
But it proved to be great training for his role now as a LifeFlight Critical Care Doctor.
The young Sunshine Coast doctor worked at the world's third largest hospital in Johannesburg as part of his University of Queensland medical placement.
He recalls the two months he spent working at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital trauma ward, in the Soweto area south of Johannesburg, to be the most demanding months of his life.
The hospital's busy trauma department deals with stabbings and gang violence on a daily basis as well as 160 gunshot victims every month.
The Soweto area is a notorious crime hot spot and has a high rate of unemployment, making it a dangerous place to both work and live.
"It was a really intimidating, unparalleled and eye opening experience. I'd never seen anything close to it before,” Luke said.
"I mainly worked in the trauma resuscitation room and it was completely unlike anything that exists in Australia.”
Luke recalls one of the most extreme cases he encountered was treating a 20-year-old girl who had been stabbed in the heart and lungs by an outraged family member wielding a knitting needle, after the girl returned home late at night past her curfew time.
He also took part in a range of surgical procedures including amputations, chest drains, emergency open heart surgery and airway procedures.
Luke worked with other students and doctors from around the world and was required to work 24-hour shifts with almost no time for breaks.
"We'd be working through the entire day and night and then get yelled at for taking a 15 minute break,” he recalls.
During his time in South Africa, Luke lived with a host family in a gated community about half an hour away from the hospital, which required three security checkpoint clearances before entry.
He would travel to and from work with other medical students in what he described as a "dodgy rental car” that was prone to break down and was instructed by locals not to stop at red lights during the journey, for fear of being robbed.
Despite the intense conditions he experienced in South Africa, Luke describes the country as a "beautiful place” which advanced his professional skills dramatically in a short period of time.
"The experience really confirmed my interest in critical care and passion for trauma and resuscitation medicine,” Luke said.
After moving back to the Sunshine Coast and working for five years in the intensive care unit, anaesthetics and emergency at Nambour Hospital, Luke set his sights on joining one of the world's leading aeromedical services, LifeFlight, as a Critical Care Doctor.
LifeFlight, the leading Queensland charity which is a world leader in aeromedical care, recruits and trains around 130 doctors every year, supplying medical staff to all Queensland-based emergency medical retrieval services.
LifeFlight doctors are aboard not only RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters, but also rescue aircraft based at Cairns, Townsville, Toowoomba, Mackay, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Roma and Brisbane.
At any hour of the day, there is an average of two LifeFlight Doctors in the air around Queensland, saving lives. LifeFlight doctors treat and transport more than 10 patients every day, caring for almost 5000 people per year.
Luke's career with LifeFlight began in January with two weeks of intensive air-medical training at the LifeFlight Training Academy in Brisbane along with 23 other doctors from around the world.
Less than a year into the job, Luke has been involved in a number of extreme missions.
The young doctor's first LifeFlight mission was a tragic incident on February 12 involving an inflatable pool toy at Tin Can Bay near Gympie, where two boys aged eight and nine were playing in the channel off Norman Point when it's believed their toy blew away, leaving the pair stranded in deep water.
Both boys were brought to shore and Luke flew to the scene in the Sunshine Coast based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter and treated the eight-year-old.
Once he was stable enough to travel, the crew airlifted him to Nambour Hospital in a critical condition. Tragically the other young boy died on the scene.
"It's unbelievable that my first rescue with the organisation was being called to the scene of such a tragic accident,” Luke said.
"We were airborne within 10 minutes of receiving the emergency call, and worked with Queensland Ambulance Service and lifeguards at the scene the second we hit the ground to do everything we could for the patient in what was an awful situation.”
Less than two weeks later, Luke was part of another dramatic accident when a 38-year-old man suffered critical injuries after having his head crushed in a piece of industrial machinery.
The crew airlifted the patient, whose injuries included face and oral trauma and a broken neck in multiple places. He was transported in a critical condition from Biggenden Hospital to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Intensive Care Unit.
Luke has been involved in many other diverse missions, including treating a patient with a life-threatening snake bite, treating an 18-month-old girl with life threatening brain and neck injuries after a fatal car accident, performing CPR on a 14-year-old in Currimundi, treating a 30-year-old woman after a cardiac arrest in the middle of a cricket oval in Tin Can Bay and managing a patient with a gunshot wound to his head on a farm near Gympie.
Despite being confronted with numerous traumatic situations, Luke has found a way to deal with the trauma.
"It's not until you get home later that night that you realise the extent of everything,” he said.
"It's important that you try not to accumulate mental scars from each job. The LifeFlight crew takes time to debrief at the base after each day to check in with each other and talk about what we feel we could improve on.
"Working as part of such a great team is one of my favourite parts of the job.
"We work together to get the best outcome for each patient and it's really satisfying when you know you helped save someone's life.”
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