"I’m a flight nurse and skin clinic owner from Auckland. I started nursing in 1967, when I was 17, and 26 years later I became New Zealand’s first full-time flight nurse.
I was working at Middlemore Hosptial as an intensive care nurse when doctors began setting up the country’s first air ambulances. They weren’t very organised, so I decided to help. It was then that I discovered I had a passion for flying and after a few months, I was offered a full-time job.
I’m on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’ll be in the lounge watching TV when a text will come through, asking if I can travel overseas to escort a patient back to New Zealand. Sometimes it’s a drop-everything situation, other times I have a day or two to sort myself out.
Of course, nursing in an aviation environment has its challenges. You only have limited equipment and there’s no big red button to push if you get into trouble – the patient has to rely solely on you and your brain during the flight. But I love the rush that comes with the job.
I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. In the 21 years that I’ve been a flight nurse, I’ve only had one death on board. It was a man with heart disease, who had a number of operations in the US that he shouldn’t have had, and he passed away an hour before we were due to land in Auckland. He just stopped breathing. He’d had enough.
There have been some close calls and some shocking cases, such as the time I flew to Fiji to bring back a Kiwi woman who had had her leg bitten off by a shark. She and her new husband were dropped onto a deserted island with no phone or radio, and went swimming. The attack happened and they had no way of calling for help, so they had to wait until the boat came back at the end of the day.
Other times, there is more than one patient on the flight.
I was dropping a German lady off to Vancouver from Los Angeles – she’d broken her femur – when the crew came roaring down the plane and asked if I could help a woman who had fainted. So suddenly I was treating two patients!
The other passengers started to quip that ‘the nurse is doing her rounds again’ every time I went past them.
Then there are the patients that really tug at the heartstrings. I went to Australia to collect a very sick man who was dying of lung cancer. I really didn’t think he would make it home. I asked him why he was in Australia and he told me he was a small bore rifle shooter and had been competing.
I said, ‘Oh, my dad Charlie does that too.’ It turned out they knew each other. He looked me in the eye, grabbed my hands and said, ‘If anyone can get me home, Charlie’s daughter can.’ We got him back to his hometown and he died hours later.
Getting sick people home so they can pass in peace is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. So many people hold on just to see their families one last time and let go in a place that they know.
The job can be hard, though. Sometimes I have a moan about missing important family events, or when I have to leave a function to get on a plane, but once I’m in the air, everything else goes away.
These days, I balance flying with my work as a skin technician. My two children are grown up now, with children of their own, so
I’m Grandma Linda, or La Lou, as they call me.
When I’m not working, the adrenaline junkie in me comes out. I’ve done some skydiving – it’s fantastic. I also love power hooping – like hula hooping but the hoop is weighted.
But my true passion is flying. I’m actually close to getting my pilot’s licence – there are just a few more exams to go. I get to combine my love of being in the air with a job that helps people – it’s a dream come true.”
As told to Kelly Bertrand