First responder.

A traffic accident on Harris Island, Scotland.

June 2019

I am still not sure what made me look up at that particular moment. I guess something must have caught my eye. With more than 40 years driving experience under your seat belt,  you remain alert even when you are admiring the broad, rugged landscapes of Harris Island.

But look up, I did. Just in time to see the large white SUV, which was the second car behind me, pull out onto the other side of the road to overtake. At the same moment, the car directly behind me also pulled out and accelerated rapidly.

“No! Mate! No!” I shouted at the silver car “Don’t!”

The small silver car slammed into the side of the larger, white car, and became airborne sailing over the top of the white car, rolling over and over again. It dropped into a gully next to the road. I didn’t see it hit the ground, but when I did see where it had come to rest, I could tell from the dug-up field, that it had skated on its roof across the rock-studded grass. The white car spun on its wheels and ended up facing the right way in the correct lane, front tyre punctured, passenger side caved in, airbags fully deployed

It all happened in a fraction of a second, but as people say, it seemed as if it was in slow motion. Every nanosecond etched on my mind.

I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my phone from the charger. I opened the boot of the car and fished out my first kit. The one I had brought in case I sprained my ankle while hiking.

As I jabbed 999 on the phone’s keyboard,  I thought to myself “I don’t have enough Bandaids for this accident. Those people are dead for sure.”

“Ambulance, Fire or Police?” the calm female voice said at the other end of the line.

“Ambulance and Police,” I said, already fumbling with my phone to put it on loudspeaker, so I could use the Emergency App to give my location.

 

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These are the emergency contacts for NSW, Australia, I don’t remember if it gave the 999 number in Scotland. I think I just remembered it from TV shows!

“Which one first?”

“Ambulance, I would say. I have just witnessed a serious road crash. My location is XYZ”, and I gave my coordinates, reading from the screen.

I ran down the hill, the tiny first aid kit tucked under my arm.

I got to the white car first.

“Are you hurt? Any injuries?”

“No,” they both said, “We are OK, just a bit shaky.”

“Stay in the car,” I said, “I have called an ambulance.”

I turned to see a young man and woman crawling out of the silver car and watched incredulously, as they scrambled up the embankment.

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“Come! Sit!” I said, sizing up their injuries. Scratched hands from the broken glass. A large graze on his temple. Cuts to her shins and shredded tights. Both had dilated pupils and were rambling on about what had happened.

“I just didn’t see him!” the young man said.

They were in shock.

I passed my assessment on to the calm lady who was still on the other end of the phone.

“I’ll send two ambulances,” she said. “it will be a while.”

I pulled out a gauze pad from my kit and told the girl to hold it on the largest cut on her shin. The blood flowing freely from the cut, making it look more gruesome than it was.

“Press  hard with this,” I said, “what’s your name?”

“Joanna”

“Where are you hurt, Joanna? Is it ok if I touch you to see if you have any injuries?

“My back and neck are really sore.”

“I imagine they are! Can you just stay really still for me?” I draped my one, silver blanket over her shaking body and asked her to breathe with me. “Nice deep breaths Joanna… Slow down, slow down… you’ll be Ok. The ambulance is on its way.”

By this stage, some other people had begun to pull up.

“Do you need help?”

“Yes, I do! Do you have a blanket?

The Dutchman nods.

“Get it, and wrap this fellow up. He needs to stay warm.”

“What’s your name, mate?” I asked the dazed man.

“John”

“You’ve got a bit of a bump on your head there John! Can I have a look at it?”

I took another piece of gauze from the meagre first aid kit and pressed it against his bleeding head.

“Can I help? another voice said from the crowd. “I am a navy medic.”

“Take over here, mate, you can do a better job than me!”

“No, you seem to have it under control.” He walked away and melted back into the crowd.

“HANG ON!!” I thought, “Is there no one here better equipped than me to deal with this? Here I am on the other side of the world in a foreign country being a very bossy Australian telling Scottish people what to do?? Is there no-one?”

It would seem I was it.

The Uncle of the White Car Man (who I now knew was Alex) turned up at my side. They had called him straight after the crash.

“You need help,” he said. Not a question but a statement.

“Yes, mate!”

Thank god, another person willing to lead.  “Can you stop the traffic up there. We don’t want to get run over ourselves.”

There was no verge, and we were sitting right on the road.

The traffic was calm and patient. A few people got out to look at what was happening and then returned to their cars. There were offers of food and water for the injured.

“No,” I said “You don’t know if they are going to need surgery. Let’s wait for the ambo’s”.

The quizzical looks reminded me that abbreviating a word and adding an O was a uniquely Australian practice.

We waited. I checked on the two in the SUV again. They were still shaky but definitely uninjured.

My phone rang.

“Yes?”

“Harris Police here, can you tell me what has happened?”

“Road crash at (co-ordinates).  No major injuries. The traffic is building up.”

All matter of fact, as if I do this every day.

“We’ll be there as soon as we can, but we are already dealing with another matter at the other end of the island.”

It seemed like an episode of Shetland. The majestic scenery was laid out before me. The rocky outcrops, the soaring birds, the inquisitive bystanders. The grey, scudding clouds.

More time elapsed.  perhaps 30 minutes, and then the welcome wail of a siren. One ambulance had arrived.

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“Ok,” the green-clad fellow said, “What’s going on here?”

“Traffic accident, four people involved the two in the white car are a bit shaky but otherwise appear to be OK. These two, John and Joanna, crawled out of that car (the ambo lets out a long low whistle) and up the hill. They have some superficial injuries (pointing to their legs and hands)  but are both complaining of headache, backache and a sore neck. They have been conscious and lucid the whole time. Their breathing has steadied, and they seem to be able to move freely, but I have asked them to stay still. Joanna is the most distressed, but I am concerned about his contusion on John’s forehead.”

“Ah hah…” he said slowly as he put on his gloves.

Shit! No gloves! I forgot to put mine on!!

“How long ago?”

“About 40 minutes?

“Hmm ok. Can you just hold John’s head still while I have a look.”

I cradled John’s head in the way I had been shown in the advanced first aid course I had done.

The paramedic looked at me and said: “Hmmm you know what to do… are you a first responder?”

First responder? I smiled and as a million thoughts went through my head as to how an Australian holidaying in Scotland had taken charge of a traffic accident, was well, not a first responder per se, but certainly a well trained NSW SES volunteer.  How do you describe what the NSW SES is? Tick tock tick tock …it all flicked through my mind, and I decided on

“Well, no, not exactly. I am a volunteer in the emergency services in Australia. I have had some advanced training in this sort of thing.”

That would do for the time being. Another ambulance crew turned up. The paramedics decided to treat John and Joanna as having potential spinal injuries, which meant very cautious handling. I helped them strap the two onto spinal boards, and lift them onto the ambulance.

As they departed, I looked at the long, long queues of traffic stretching back on both sides of the road. The white car was still in the middle of the lane, immobile, blocking the traffic.  The once patient drivers beginning to get impatient as the ambulance vanished over the hill. To me, it seemed like another accident waiting to happen, as people began to pull out willy-nilly, trying to get past.

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In rapid-fire, I said to the Uncle “Contra-flow traffic, ten cars each way. You let ten cars past and then stop them, and then I‘ll let ten go from my end. Do that until we finish. Hold up your hand like this (the stop signal) and raise your other hand to me when you are ready to change over,”  I demonstrated a beckoning signal.

I went up the road and waved the first car on. It didn’t move. An older woman in the driver’s seat was slumped over the wheel.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “don’t tell me she’s had a heart attack while we’ve been waiting? And the ambulance has just left!”

I walked gingerly up to her car and tapped on the window. She woke up, startled. I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding.

“Move on please ma’am.”

For the next 15 minutes, we directed the traffic. I cursed the fact that I was dressed all in black and had no hi-vis, no glowing traffic wand. Not like in the training I had done.

The police rang again. They’d be there soon.

After 2 hours, they did finally arrive. The queues of traffic had gone, the ambulance had taken John and Joanna away. Alex (the driver of the white car) had calmed down, and his Aunty was now just plain angry that the police had taken so long to get there. The Uncle and I were congratulating each other on what a fantastic job we had done with the traffic. It seemed so peaceful.

The police officer began to get my details.

“Hang on a minute,” she said. “I just have to check on my colleague”. He was striding down the road, fishing something out of his pocket.

“It was his first day yesterday.”  Eye roll  “I just have to make sure he does not breathalyse them without me as a witness.”

She came back to me 20 minutes later and started to retake my statement.

It was cold. The wind had picked up, and I was busting to go to the toilet. While caught up in the middle of the emergency, I had stayed calm and in control. The only thing I could think of now was not wetting my pants in front of this police officer.

I told her I needed to go.

“Go down the road to the Youth Centre. It’s just around the bend here. Tell them the Police sent you. They’ll let you use their loo. Wait for us there.”

“Right yeah sure,” I thought. But sure enough I said the police had sent me, they let me use their loo and now more comfortable, I sat on the car bonnet and waited. Another 15 minutes later, the Police pulled up at the Youth Centre, and I  gave them my statement.

It was now three and a half hours since I had looked in that rear-view mirror and I  was finally on my way again. Cold, hungry and thirsty. However, my overwhelming emotion was pride! I had done good! I had stayed calm. I had been useful! I had used the training I had been given through the NSW State Emergency Service to render first aid and direct traffic. I might be a bossy Aussie, but who bloody cares! On this day, at that moment, I was the right person at the right time, and I helped people. Really, really helped them.

Punch the air,  Old Chook! Today you were truly invincible and very visible!


The NSW SES is a volunteer organisation which has jurisdiction over storm and flood events in New South Wales, Australia. In some rural units, they also look after road crashes. I have been an SES member for nearly 5 years. I have been trained in many aspects of emergency management. You can read about the SES here. It’s a government-funded body and one of the things I really love about Australia. We look after each other!

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If I won the lottery.

a photo showing several lottery tickets

I have a confession to make.

I am a gambler.

I spend $AUD18 a week buying Lotto, Powerball and lottery tickets. Every week, when I go to the newsagent to check my tickets, I have that little knot of hope sitting in my belly. Maybe this time?

The $18 per week is the sum total of my gambling vice. I figure I can afford it and it’s a bit of fun so I don’t feel too guilty.  I can justify it easily. I take a packed lunch to work every day. I don’t buy coffee every day. If I did, that would be  $19 per week for the coffee alone! See! The lottery tickets are a bargain!

I have, of course, spent more than I have won. My daughter tells me I buy lottery tickets because of my working class background. Apparently, rich people don’t buy lottery tickets. They gamble in more respectable ways like the stock market or horse racing.

I don’t want to win a lot. $3 or 4 million would be plenty! I certainly don’t want to win one of those super Powerball prizes of $30 million or more! Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t be handing it back, but I don’t need it.

I don’t want to live an extravagant life. You know from my previous blog posts that I try not to be a thoughtless consumer. I just want to be able to quit the day job so I can write, travel and take photos!

I don’t want a buy a mansion with a pool or a pool room for that matter. I don’t want a Maserati. I don’t want to fly first class.  (Hang on a minute, maybe that’s one thing I do want!)

I want to win just enough to pay off my current mortgage, buy a small investment property that I could rent out as a source of reliable income and then have enough spending money leftover for a relatively comfortable and creative life. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

a handwritten note calcualtedhow much I need to win in the lottery.
How much do you need?

Let’s see: with the mortgage out of the way and keeping my living standard at its current level; with a life expectancy of 30 more years, allowing for two overseas trips per year, a new car in 10 years, and a bit of a contingency fund for new appliances and furniture when the current ones wear out or break – how much do I need? A few calculations later and not allowing for inflation or interest earned, I figure I need $2.8 million. Therefore,  $3-4 million is an appropriate goal.

I just need to win!

EASY!

 

Don’t worry, IF I did win the big one, I have it all worked out. I will buy a number of properties that I would rent to lower income families for a very moderate rate. These people would be strugglers. The people Australians call “Battlers”. Honest, hardworking folk who are being left behind in this current housing market.  There would be a catch to their lower rent, however. They would need to agree to volunteer for a community organisation for a negotiated number of hours per week. The time would be dependent on their other responsibilities but they would need to have a regular commitment to being a volunteer. They would do good. They would feel good.  I would feel good! I would need to hire some people to make this happen because I would be too busy writing, travelling and taking photos!

…. and I’d take my mum on a cruise! A long one!

A row of deck chairs. I am lying on one of them
Welcome Cruislings

Fingers crossed!

Wine and Wedges – getting out of the hole

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My fridge on moving day – no food but plenty of booze. A sign of things to come?

A few years ago, I went through a reasonably civilised divorce. On reflection, it wasn’t so civilised but I am not going into details here. The part leading up to the divorce was harrowing. Broken promises, lost dreams and plenty of regret. It was civilised because by the time we got to the signing of the papers part, things were settled and we didn’t squabble over the stuff, we settled things up evenly; our only daughter was a trainee adult and we had stopped yelling at each other.

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I have included this series of images from the Illawarra Vintage Car Expo because they are taken at the start of my photographic journey in 2012. I tried to find something to photograph every weekend.

I moved into my own place and I had some good friends help me and I unpacked with not much food but about five bottles of champagne in the fridge; given to me by said friends as  ‘happy divorce’ gifts.

I had been on that track for nearly 3 years. Not much food and too much wine.  I like to call it my wine and wedges phase (wedges being thick potato chips). I survived on pretty much nothing else as I grappled with the slow and torturous end to my marriage, the fact that my daughter had chosen to move overseas and the crushing reality that I was on the other side of 50 and alone.

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Thankfully, I had a good job, the financial resources and the wit to carry on normally during the daylight hours but come 5 o’clock, I self-medicated and drank more wine than I should. Often. Everyday! Nothing new…I know lots of people, both men and women who have been through this same self-destructive phase. That’s not what I want to share. The road to recovery and the return to all five food groups is the real story.

I think the journey is  transferable so if you are trawling the internet looking for confirmation that things will get better; hang on they will!!

Here are a few suggestions on what I did to “get my shit together”.

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  1. Never refuse an invitation.

You never know who you will meet and what might happen. I heard this advice on the radio. A young widower was outlining his struggle and said he met his current wife at a dinner party he had intended to avoid. Of course, this comes with the caveat of not accepting invitations that don’t align with your values, morals or bank account. But don’t not accept invitations because you think it might be boring. You can find interest in any situation even if you treat it as an anthropological investigation. Getting out and socializing and building relationships; especially platonic ones will build your sense of worth.

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I took a liking to the hood ornaments.
  1. Keep a three good things journal.

When I first read about this in Martin Seligman’s Flourish, a self-help book based in positive psychology, I thought it was a gimmick. How could this help? Regardless, I gave it a go and I am now a real fan! It helped me get out of a heavy “woe-is-me” phase. Your job is to write down three good things that happened during your day before you go to sleep. Sometimes it may just be you have the skill to write or you spent some time with friends; saw an interesting movie;  or your enjoyed 5 minutes in the sun. The good things don’t have to be big, but you must be consistent. I noticed a significant change in my mood and enthusiasm after only 10 days and looked forward to writing in the journal. I would end up writing out six good things. My life was good and I should remember that. Sure, I might be alone but come to think of it I like that! I enjoy the freedom it gives me.

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  1. Eat healthy, sleep at least 8 hours a day and get some exercise.

You will also of course have to cut back on the booze! Sounds like pretty sensible advice doesn’t it, but I know it can be hard to get it happening. Maybe start with one of those dry fund raising months. In Australia, we have Dry July (Cancer Council) and Ocsober (Life Education for Kids). Even if you don’t end up raising money it is a good way to appease those helpful friends who question why you may have gone from good-time-party-girl to teetotaler. Volunteering to drive is also a good way to keep you on track.

There is a direct link between gut bacteria and mood. (see my other blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/01/good-mood-food/). The bacteria in your gut send good mood chemicals to your brain. Changing your diet to include more fibre, less refined carbohydrates and probiotics such as fermented foods helps.

My new food mantras is summed up in a few words from Michael Pollan (www.michaelpollan.com)

Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.

The eat food part confuses people sometimes…of course we eat food… but he means eat whole food. Things made BY plants not IN plants. Foods that your “great grandmother would recognize as food” and without all the long lists of ingredients that sounds more like a chem lab than something you’d want to eat. My original degree was in food technology and I worked in food plants and labs in the late ’80s. I remember rows and rows of artificial flavoring  we used to test. I try and cook everything from scratch and while I would not call myself vegetarian, I have cut right back on the meat I eat and now generally only order it if I am eating out. The bonus of this is I am saving a lot on my grocery bills!

Sleeping too much or too little will mess with your moods. So practice good sleep hygiene. (see my blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/07/03/sleep-app-nea/) This website also has lots of good information. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/

If you keep your body moving it will pay you back. You will sleep better, feel better and cope better with life’s challenges. Endorphins do wonders! Research shows that even small amounts of exercise can make a difference, both physically and mentally.  There are plenty of websites that back this up:  https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health

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Just driving around in this gorgeous Chevvy would make you feel better!
  1. JFDI

I borrow this one from fitness guru Michelle Bridges. Just frickin’ do it! Just get out of bed; just go for that run/walk/exercise class. On those days when it seems too much of an effort do any of the things on this list, just shout at yourself – JFDI! And do it! You will feel better when you have.

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  1. Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old one.

Give yourself something to do other than sit in front to the telly, moping. Start something new. Learn. Immerse yourself. Become a fanatic. Practice! I took up photography and took photos every minute I could. I used it as an excuse for planning photo safaris where I would plan a weekend or day trip to somewhere new and practice new techniques. Sign up for some courses if you can afford it otherwise there are plenty of free resources online. Seriously, think of any topic/hobby and there is bound to be a thousand YouTube videos.

Make you own videos and share them!

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Hobbies are a great way to connect with like minded people as well. Join groups that specialize in your chosen field. Look out for meet-ups in your area.
  1. Do something for someone else

Become a volunteer.  Practice random acts of kindness. If you start thinking about other people you will have less time to wallow in your own self-pity. Taking yourself out of the house and doing volunteer work for people other than your family will give you a real sense of accomplishment.

I love the idea of these Kindness Cards. http://wakeupproject.com.au/kindness-cards/ a variation on the pay it forward theme.

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I obviously did not take this one. The owner was very happy for me to sit inside and get a photo. He spent a long time explaining how he looked after his car!

If you try these things and you still feel stuck, you may need some medical interventions. How long you take to make that decision will depend on you. I am no expert but I would think if you have tried three of four the things on this list and you still feel low, get professional help.

If you feel worse than low get help quick. https://www.lifeline.org.au/

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I am a volunteer.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I volunteered for the NSW SES (State Emergency Service[1]). I think the SES is pretty unique to Australia. It is a volunteer organisation that assists the community in times of storm, flood and tsunami.  If there’s a storm and a tree falls on your roof we will come and help you. We do temporary repairs and make things safe till you can get it repaired properly. I haven’t had to help out with any tsunamis yet but I have been out in plenty of storms! We also assist the police with searches.

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It’s a great organisation and I have learnt lots of new skills and made some great friends. It contributes to my wellbeing immensely. (Giving, Connecting and Learning)

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I can now tie knots like the alpine butterfly, double figure of eight, a fisherman’s knot and a bow line. Unfortunately, not with my eyes closed, but I am getting there. I can rig a height safety system so I can get up on roof safely to fix it and I am a qualified first-aider. I know the alphabet and can use a romeo-alpha-delta-indigo-oscar, as well as navigate with just a map and a compass. I can drive a light-storm truck and fix broken windows with a sheet of plywood and a nail gun. My future goals are to learn to use a chainsaw safely so I can help cut down fallen trees and do the 4WD course so I can drive in rugged terrain.

We have a weekly training night as well as social events. The requests for assistance are obviously dependent on the weather. There are units scattered throughout NSW and in other States in Australia. I would recommend joining if you are the sort of person who likes being outdoors, wants to make a meaningful contribution and are willing to get wet! It’s funny but we never seem to get called out when it’s sunny[2].

There are some special groups that do vertical rescue (i.e. rescue people who have fallen down cliffs or into ravines etc) and a flood rescue team who pluck people out of flood water risking their own lives to help others. Many people are very silly when there is a flood and think their car is like the one in a James Bond movie and can turn into a submarine! Your car will start floating in relatively shallow water, so NEVER EVER drive through flood water! The other thing is that the road could be washed away and you won’t know till it’s too late and your family is identifying your body (Yes! It happens!) In some areas, the SES also helps out with road crashes.

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This is part of a training exercise

Being an Old Chook, I am part of a general storm team.  Abseiling and strong swimming are not my forte.

Apart from all the serious stuff we get to do some seriously fun stuff! Like march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to celebrate the diversity in the ranks of the SES and of those we assist. I have created a separate blog post just for those images which will be published soon!

These photos are from the SES Facebook page and were not taken by me.

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Paddy the Platypus – our mascot.

 

 

[1] https://www.ses.nsw.gov.au/

[2] except for searches