Medflight nurse on call 24 hours a day

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 24/97) - She's a nurse with wings. When trouble arises, Medflight air ambulance nurse Pat O'Connor makes sure the sick and dying get safely from their community to a hospital in Yellowknife or the South.

"You're kind of like a jack of all trades. You have to learn a broad spectrum of things and it's quite a bit of independent practice as well," said O'Connor in her office on old airport road.

"We do talk to physicians on the phone and get orders. We fall under their direction but we're pretty much on our own. That's a challenge, too -- making the right decision. And once you go to altitude it changes how you manage patients mainly because physiology changes."

O'Connor first started working in Yellowknife in 1985, as chief flight nurse for St. John's Ambulance

Finding her work too demanding on her free time, O'Connor took a break from flight nursing in 1990 and began doing repatriations from Edmonton.

She came back in 1992 to Cambridge Bay and started a medevac base there.

In September 1995 O'Connor got the contract with Medflight and she's been their flight nurse ever since.

Each month, O'Connor and Medflight handles an average of 45 medevacs.

It is busiest for them during holidays and weekends. Some days, O'Connor said they've done as many as eight medevacs.

Five flight nurses work for Medflight in Yellowknife and two more at the base in Cambridge Bay, all of whom O'Connor supervises.

She works seven days on and five days off.

Asked if she would ever give up flight nursing, O'Connor said it might be something she would do for a year at a time but she figures it is something she will always come back to doing.

"I like going from sitting around the house to doing major trauma somewhere. It could be a car accident on the road and you're crawling under a car with the fire department or it could be a woman having a baby. It's interesting," she said.