In Praise of Bush Doctors

You, who live in the cities and on the coast, may hear of us out here in the bush, west of the Great Divide. Apparently we are depressed, bludgeoned by drought, deprived of social interaction, slow of internet speed, hardened by death and dying stock and as a result are cultural rednecks. Take Coolatai for example. We are 40 minutes from the nearest town, our only “shop” is the Wallaroo Hotel, our tennis courts are made from termite nests and are constantly invaded by meat ants, cows roam on the village common (100m from the pub) and our roads range from potholed to impassable. However, we protest, we are not depressed, bludgeoned, deprived, slow or hardened. Rednecks, on the contrary, is merely a matter of opinion. But considering the isolation and challenges we have an exceptional health service.

If you need a doctor around here and you are not in imminent danger of dying (in which case the wonderful rescue helicopter may come and get you), then it is a 40 minute trip to Warialda where we are blessed with Doctors Clem and Di.

Doctor Clem is renowned for using honey as an antiseptic and healing balm. Unfortunately he is also known for not using pain killers. Brian is testament to this. A couple of years ago Brian applied a boning knife to his wrist, went close to slicing his veins, and conned a neighbour to drive him to town (I was in big town on a grocery run). Brian tells me although the honey does wonders it does little to compensate for the lack of painkillers as eight inches of honey-soaked gauze is poked into one’s flesh. Yet he healed remarkably well.

Doctor Di is exceptional, empathetic and strong minded enough to tell Doctor Clem when his diagnosis is wrong. Brian is also testament to this after Di clinically proved that he was suffering from Q-Fever and not Ross River Fever as diagnosed by Clem back in 2008. Well we knew he was crook whatever the name.

In addition we have two nurses who come to Coolatai once a month to dispense medicine and advice where needed, and also a regional nurse who will come to our farms to take blood samples etc. Brian, as yet, has no comment on their services.

If you find yourself not quite dying but still fairly fragile then an ambulance road trip may be in order and if beyond Clem and Di’s healing hands then you may find yourself with a trip to one of the regional hospitals.

A couple of winters ago Brian and I were engaging in our non-farm activities of dirt bike riding (he) and hockey (me) – two sports that tend to generate their share of injuries.

Unfortunately Brian’s mate, Col, came a cropper off his bike and scored himself an ambulance ride to Warialda and then to the regional hospital in Tamworth; the ride probably made no easier by his broken ribs and punctured lung. When we went to visit Brian took two magazines – a bike one and a girlie one. I gave him a magazine on patchwork.

Two weeks later I was in a competitive game of hockey when I went down in a screaming, agonizing heap with a snapped cruciate ligament in my knee. I felt sure it must have exploded. I scored an ambulance ride to the hospital in Inverell and subsequently a magazine on patchwork.

Col got out of hospital but must have missed the nurses because in January of the following year he jumped off a tractor and busted a few more ribs. At the same time the damage to my knee remained undiagnosed so it was off to specialists in Tamworth for MRIs and exploratory surgery, which confirmed the busted ACL. It was then I had a classic conversation with Doctor Clem.

“It’s like this”, Doctor Clem said. “Repairing your knee would be like restoring a 1970’s model car. We have the technology but do we really want to go to the trouble”. Well, thank heavens he wasn’t taking my blood pressure reading at the same time because it would have gone through the roof. Are you kidding me? Is he really telling me I am too old to be fixed? Well I was having none of that so I stamped my foot and threw a tantrum and next thing I knew I was in Sydney with my knee being reconstructed.

We like to think of ourselves as self-reliant out here. Many of our injuries and illnesses are left to run their own course and when a farmer needs to go to a doctor it is usually fairly serious – more so if you know you are going to see Doctor Clem. We value Doctors Di and Clem immensely for the work they do in our community and know that when it is life –threatening all steps will be taken to help. Even when we have to jump up and down Clem is probably just assessing our mental state. They have a back-handed way of strengthening us and in turn adding to that self-reliance. For all of that we are thankful.


10 responses to “In Praise of Bush Doctors

  1. Thanks again Mandy for brightening my evening. I’m very happy to have Clem as my local GP; he’s definitely a character.

  2. Loved this Mandy!

  3. Lyn Grabham

    We are very lucky with our doctors Mandy. You will have to ask mick about him digging out planters warts and the local kicking in as he went to walk down the street when his leg went from under him, or Nicolette about the day he got me to hold her shoulder while he straightened her broken arm.
    He is brilliant however at looking after my 91 year old mum and he has put many stitches into and mended many broken arms in the Grabham family and doesn’t bat an eyelid at scalples embedded in thumbs or kneecaps poking out. Our local doctors always have to think on their feet and I’m sure as country GPS they need to be prepared for anything !!

    • Lyn, I’m hoping to pass this post onto Clem and Di and know they will appreciate the kind words. Where would we be without them?

  4. Sounds like some fascinating characters in well told post.

  5. I really loved your post. I’m a country girl at heart and your post brought back memories of my youth : -) My dad was a country GP for 14 (or was it 15?) years – no honey, though! Lots of babies delivered and seen grow up; and, in the days when the GP went out with the ambo to car accidents, lots of known bodies scraped off the road …
    I have a lot of anger about the disparity in health services available to rural/regional Australians and urban Australians. It makes me see red when I hear someone complain of having to wait a day or a week to see a doctor in the city, especially for comparatively minor complaints, when I know that if they lived a few hundred km’s away they would face a much longer wait.
    I am particularly passionate about the paucity of mental health services in the “real” country. I know country people are self-reliant, as you so beautifully write about, but sometimes people get sick and need help – and the help isn’t there.
    Thanks again for a great post.

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