Flying into Karumba you could see the extensive flooding. As it was a lower category cyclone, only a few trees were down, but what I found most striking was the degree of inundation.
While the town itself was not flooded, the entire surrounding area was, which was very apparent upon flying in. Seeing the Norman River spilling over its banks, causing the road to be well and truly cut off, was quite impressive.
There are many health implications that can stem from a natural disaster such as this, including an increase in transmission in arthropod-borne illnesses, in addition to skin infections and multi-system infections, including melioidosis.
We did see a bit of structural damage to some of the housing within the community, particularly to the older properties. There was an enormous gum tree down in the yard of an elderly couple’s home, and of course their physical condition would prevent them from being able to do anything about it.
Given that most community members have lived in North Queensland for most of their lives, they are a resilient bunch. With that said, it was clear how much strain the nurse practitioner felt due to the increased demands on the healthcare system. Her exhaustion was palpable. Also, patients with pre-existing mental health concerns seemed especially affected by the damage to their properties, as cleaning up that sort of damage is trying even at the best of times.
While we were there we had a number of opportunities to assist Dr Clements and the nurse practitioner.
There was a patient I helped with who presented with a venous stasis ulcer. The nurse practitioner was uncomfortable managing this patient in the community, given the scope of practice and resources, and under normal circumstances would have sent them on an aeromedical retrieval to Mount Isa. However, given the patient was coping and wasn’t an urgent case, flying her out at that time wasn’t really justifiable. That case gave me first-hand experience of seeing how clinical decision making is affected by context, both in terms of physical and human resources.
Most of the cases we were able to help with were fairly common and not directly linked to the cyclone. However, the opportunity to relieve some pressure from the local nurse and keep things moving efficiently for Dr Clements was amazing.
We were there and back in a flash, but getting to go on this adventure and, more importantly, getting to play a meaningful role in contributing to meeting the community’s healthcare needs, was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. I may have received a few mozzie bites along the way, but I also gained confidence in my ability to help in a healthcare system under strain, as well as being taught many valuable lessons by our enthusiastic mentor, Dr Michael Clements. I would go again in a heartbeat!
Supporting the community: Harjyot Gill
When I got the call up to help the community of Karumba recover from Cyclone Imogen, I knew this was my opportunity to give back. From my past experiences in natural disasters, most notably Cyclone Yasi, I understood how uplifting it can be to have the help and support of others during an arduous time.
My heart ached for the community of Karumba as we flew above in Dr Clements' plane and saw the aftermath of the cyclone.
Our day started as soon as we arrived in Karumba around 9.30am. After a quick introduction with the nurse practitioner and registered nurse at the clinic, we were given our own consulting rooms and patients to see. During my day, I saw an elderly man with an infected insect bite, a mother with a wrist fracture for whom I applied a backslab, a young man struggling to cope and an elderly woman suffering from a severe chest infection. Every patient shared their story, some with tears. In these vulnerable moments, I was continually reminded of the privilege of being a doctor and offering help and solace to patients in a bewildering time.
This experience also highlighted the unique challenges of rural and remote medicine as Karumba did not have access to advanced diagnostic testing and on the whole patients preferred treatment in the community.