Doctor sees patients by torchlight during Cyclone Debbie
WHILE his Northern Beaches home was being smashed by the wild tidal surge from Cyclone Debbie, Dr John McIntosh was tending to patients by torchlight at his clinic 4km away.
The long-time Mackay GP has had a busy week. On Tuesday, he threw open his doors with the risk the Northern Beaches might get cut off from Mackay and volunteered to act as the emergency refuge centre.
During TC Debbie's three days of torture and the days following the clinic remained open - albeit without power - and the team of doctors, nurses and admin staff worked around the clock seeing up to 120 patients a day.
"Through a cyclone (the Northern Beaches clinic) is a beautiful building to be in as it's nice and solid," Dr McIntosh said.
"The problems really arose afterwards when we lost power and then the morning after the cyclone passed we started getting all the injuries and people needing assistance."
During the cyclone, doctors and nurses have tended to patients with life threatening emergencies like anaphylaxis, head injuries, lacerations, acute infections and even had to help the police manage a patient death at home (that was not cyclone-related).
"We've been manning the place for the last three days and nights without power," Dr McIntosh said, with the Northern Beaches clinic having its power restored Friday afternoon. Its Ooralea city clinic was still without power on Saturday, but still seeing patients regardless.
"We're set up to do it, we have torches and battery-operated otoscopes and back-up generators to try and protect the vaccines but clearly it's hot and sweaty and we have no access to old records which is sometimes a bit difficult."
He said the biggest problem was people thinking they weren't open, with the phone lines being down.
"We opened the doors so everyone driving past could see that we were open and as the word got out we've been very busy," Dr McIntosh said.
"We saw up to 60 people a day in each clinic ... there was lots of trauma, people falling over and injuring themselves, we've had head injuries, lacerations starting the morning after the cyclone and the windy nights afterwards that seemed just as bad as the night the cyclone hit."
With the pressure on at Mackay Base Hospital, Dr McIntosh said the superclinics helped relieve things, also getting the Dr To U Mackay house call service up and running from Friday night.
"There's been two to four doctors at any one time and we're rotating, it gets a little bit uncomfortable after a few hours - we're doing four-hour shifts," he said. "We call in more doctors as we have more patients turn up."
In between treating patients during Cyclone Debbie, Dr McIntosh had to duck home to protect his own house from the northern storm surge.
"We had two really unpleasant nights there (at Dolphin Heads) where the 2-3-metre waves were pounding away at the edge of the property and our rock walls were starting to move and shift," he said.
"We had some flooding at home too so I was really working between the two places... doctors don't usually think about overtime - we work when we're needed.
"All the doctors and nurses and reception staff have all been pulling together really well and coming in during that horrible time; in the pouring rain we had staff coming in and helping out."
Dr McIntosh has worked through a few smaller cyclones in his 25 years as a GP in Mackay, but they weren't as bad as Debbie and Ului in 2010.
"Mackay got more directly hit (in Ului) but we had the similar sort of power outages," he recalled.
"I must say I was surprised given that this wasn't a direct hit how much problem we've had with power and telephone outages. I wouldn't have thought Mackay would be so badly affected but we've had three days without power and many areas are still without power.
"Ului was the same; we were operating with torches and generators and single lights and fans to make it bearable but the weather is quite nice compared to when after Ului passed through, it was much hotter and sweatier then.
"Before that, all the other cyclones were category ones so we didn't have significant damage to facilities with power and phones."
The majority of the patients coming through the doors of the superclinics got through the cyclonic conditions relatively unscathed.
"Most of them were well prepared and I think it's just that it took so long for Debbie to pass through, it was really slow and came across slower than predicted and hung about longer (that it affected people more)," Dr McIntosh said.
"We got those two nights of really bad weather, then a separate thunder and lightning storm that whipped us from the north.
"People are just getting tired, really, the ones who are still without power but I think everyone's done really well and hung in there and we just want to get back to normal."
For those who require medical treatment, the GP Superclinics at Northern Beaches and Ooralea City are open, with the Northern Beaches clinic back to full power.
"We also have whole courses of antibiotics and painkillers either at the clinic or via Dr To U, so we're well placed to provide emergency care," Dr McIntosh said.
For an appointment at the Northern Beaches clinic, phone 4954 8866. If you require the Dr To U Mackay house call service, you can phone 1300 438 377.