Today I am absolutely delighted to welcome Meredith Appleyard, who wrote the 100% brilliant novel, The Doctor Calling, to Sam Still Reading. The Doctor Calling is set in rural South Australia and deals with many issues unique to country life that the protagonist Laura (herself a GP) sees daily. Being West Australian and the term FIFO (fly in, fly out – often done on mining and oil jobs in the country) being synonymous with life in our state, I asked Meredith to discuss working FIFO and for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). Thank you Meredith for your time and your great answers to my random questions!
FIFO is a word that’s now ingrained in our culture here in the West. What’s it like to work FIFO? What are the highs and lows?
Being a FIFO worker suited me. My job as a paramedic in the oil and gas fields meant working fifteen days on and thirteen days off. Work and home life seemed to evolve into two discrete entities. When you were at work, you worked. Your days off were like a mini break, which was terrific. I got lots done. The downside was all my friends were at work when I was home and they resented me for having so much time off! The fact I worked fifteen ten-hour days and was on-call when I wasn’t working seemed to escape them.
Then I met and married another FIFO worker and when our shifts clashed I quit and found a ‘normal’ job again. For ten years I experienced the other side of FIFO and being the one at home was challenging at times. With one job, I’m sure they thought I didn’t really have a husband because they’d never met him. I do understand the pressure it puts on families and relationships.
Has anything outrageous happened on a swing? If so, please do share 😉
Many outrageous things happened, although they probably didn’t seem outrageous at the time. We were all so far from home, we lived in single men’s quarters, and there was always someone playing a practical joke on someone else. I remember one of my coworkers went back to his room after work to discover it had been stripped bare — all the furniture, his belongings, everything gone. Not sure where he slept that night but when he went to his room the next day, everything had been put back! Another favourite was throwing bits of cheese onto the tin roof of your quarters — you’d be woken at first light by the raucous sound of the crows clattering around on the roof scavenging the food. Not the best way to start the day!
How does regional nursing differ to the big city? What are the frustrations and benefits?
In small country towns the nurses often know the patients they’re caring for. Mostly that’s a positive — it makes for more holistic care because the patients’ home circumstances are often known and care can be tailored to meet their needs. I believe less things ‘fall through the cracks’ because of this, there’s a greater sense of community and people are willing to help each other because they realise they might be the one needing help the next day.
I learned very quickly not to gossip — country hospital staff usually stay put in one job, and they are often friends and/or relatives. I was always an outsider! In one place that I worked, the wife was the cook, the husband the maintenance man; a nurse and a cleaner were sisters; a mother and daughter were both nurses. You had to be oh so careful what you said!
-On your website, you mention that you’ve worked for the RFDS. I’d love to hear a story about your time with them!
Back then it was a dream come true. When I saw the job advertised in the paper I just had to apply, never really expecting to be the successful applicant. I’d just finished a twelve-month post graduate certificate in critical care nursing and I was raring to go. My first experience was a clinic run to stations out from Broken Hill. I felt like I’d stepped onto the set of The Flying Doctor!
Thank you again Meredith – tomorrow I’ll be posting my review of The Doctor Calling (I think you can already guess that I loved it). If you’re interested in reading any of Meredith’s books (and I highly recommend you do), check out the following links: