A Medical Emergency in Australia: ER in an Ambo

Those of you who have heard of the Darwin Awards will know it is nothing to do with Australia’s most northerly city. The Darwin Awards are as explained on their website, “Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.

Now, if there were a similar award for those who do something stupid that almost cost them the sight in one eye, then I’d be up for a nomination.

Here’s the story.

We all know about the joys of swimming pool ownership from my post on the subject a couple of years ago, and from that same post we know what to do When Swimming Pools Turn Green.

We add chlorine.

This chlorine can come in either a powdered shock treatment form or in a strong liquid solution. Just before Christmas my swimming pool turned green. At around 7 PM on Friday 21st of December I chose to add 20 litres of liquid chlorine…

chlorineAnyone who’s poured any kind of liquid from a large-ish container like this will know that things can start going glug glug quite quickly and that the smooth flow of liquid can suddenly become very erratic. That’s what happened as I was pouring this liquid chlorine into the pool, and as things started to splosh in an uncontrolled way, I thought to myself “I really should be wearing my…


Too late.

A huge glug of chlorine had splashed back and scored not a bull’s-eye, but a direct hit in MY eye. “Ouch” I had said to myself, among other things.

Chlorine eye, after flushingFor the next hour I pointed, via a small plastic hose I use for my homebrew, a jet of water from my drinking line tap at my eye, whilst intermittently rushing over to my computer to search Google for “can neat pool chlorine make you go blind” through the other one.

Yes, apparently it can.

Mrs Bobinoz was out at some kind of Christmas meal thing, and she hadn’t taken the car suggesting the consumption of alcohol. I couldn’t drive myself to hospital, I couldn’t see!

Well, I could, but everything had that blurred effect as if I were looking through a bathroom window, but not a flat bathroom window, one shaped like a bubble. And all lights now had a slightly duller twin right next to them.

No, driving would not be a good idea.

So, squinting at my PC screen, I decided to investigate the kind of medical emergency support available to me here in Queensland.

By at about 8:30 PM I had discovered 13 HEALTH. That’s a telephone number, 13 43 25 84, that Queenslanders can call 24/7 to discuss any health concerns they might have.

So I did.

I got through quite fast, and I was advised to see a doctor as quickly as possible. Well, I didn’t really expect them to say “Oh, you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it“. I knew my local doctor was out, I’d tried him earlier, so what were my options? Mrs Bobinoz was still out, I couldn’t see properly…

I was advised by 13 HEALTH to ring another number to speak to a company that could arrange for an out of hours doctor to call round my house.


How much would that cost me though? Now, this isn’t too confusing. The callout from the doctor would be $175. But I pay around $80 per month for a quite minimal private health insurance scheme that covers not just me, but my wife and daughter as well.

Because of that, I would be able to claim back $125 of that, so the shortfall would be $50. But, if I join their society with a family membership, I would pay just $42.50 per year and that would cover me, my wife and Elizabeth for any emergency doctors we need to call out for the whole year.

Hey, that’s a pretty good deal! So I signed up for it.

We are now at about 9 PM, I have been told they try to get a doctor around within two to four hours, but obviously it depends how busy they are and on prioritisation.

The doctor arrived just before 1 AM, so it definitely took four hours rather than two. But in fairness to them, when I telephoned at about midnight they knew exactly where the doctor was and how much longer she would be.

The doctor spent around 20 to 25 minutes looking thoroughly at my eye before deciding that I really needed to go to the hospital where they have the necessary equipment to check my eye out properly. She had concerns that permanent damage may occur and concluded with “I really think you should go now.”

Explaining to her the difficulties of transportation she replied that she could arrange for an ambulance to pick me up within 30 to 40 minutes. In fact, she strongly recommended it.

She left at about 1:20 AM and 10 minutes later I heard the sound of walkie-talkies, beeping noises and footsteps. “Crikey, that was quick” I thought.

But no, it wasn’t my ambulance; it was what I think they call the “First Responder”. These are apparently volunteers who help out the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) and they show up when it is felt the ambulance will take longer than 30 minutes to arrive.

Their job is to comfort the patient and they can even offer some basic medical treatment. I smiled and squinted at the same time as I explained I would be fine to wait on my own.

Are you sure?” He asked. “Okay, bye then.

And off he went.

By 2:10 in the morning I was in the ambo and we were on our way to the hospital…

back of the ambo…my driver was Beth and Frank was the medic who attended to me in the back.

At 2:35 AM I am booked in at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and fast tracked, at that stage I wasn’t sure why. But Beth and Frank took me to the fast track room, disappeared for a few minutes and then came back again to walk me to a different room that had the specialist eye checking equipment required…

eye checker roomThat was quick” I said, and Frank explained that I had a good “category”. I understood that as a not so healthy sign, but something that did at least speed things up.

From 3:10 AM until about 3:40 AM I am having my eye examined by a nurse, she’s a little concerned there is still some damage and feels that it needs some extra flushing; she then leaves the room.

3:50 AM she returns to check the pH of my eye. She thinks the pH is pretty good, but disappears again to return a few minutes later to lead me into another room where it has been decided my eyes will be flushed further with 2 litres of a saline solution.

By 4:30 AM I am walking out of the hospital and hailing a taxi to take me home. But my hospital treatment isn’t over, I was asked to return again in the morning for further checks. They did suggest I get there at around 8:30 AM.

Yeah, right!

They did tell me though that the eye clinic was open until around midday though, so I got there at about 11:40 AM. It’s an old tradition of mine to try and catch a little bit of sleep between days.

Mrs Bobinoz dropped me off, my vision was still not too good, then she went off to get petrol and had only just returned and found a parking space when I telephone her on her mobile to say I’d been seen and I was on my way back out again.

Yes, I was only in there around 15 minutes, there were no queues, seems it was a good plan to turn up just before they were closing.

And, best of all, no permanent damage to my eye which has now fully recovered.

It was a scary experience on the one hand as I was genuinely worried about losing the vision of my left eye. On the other I can only praise all the medical staff involved throughout the evening, I was truly impressed with the efficiency and speed of it all.

Remember, I only left for the hospital at 2:10 AM and I was back home by 5 AM on the dot. It’s a half-hour drive each way, so I think that’s excellent.

Last time I went to ER (or A & E, whatever you want to call it) in the UK, I arrived at Basildon Hospital at 8:30 PM in the evening and got home at 6 o’clock in the morning the next day. That hospital was a 15 minute drive each way.

With my Australian ER experience, it was notable that there didn’t seem to be a big room full of people waiting; the fast track room I told you about only had four other people in it. Walking around the corridors there were people being treated all over the place, but I never did see a big room full of people waiting.

Whenever I’ve been to ER in the UK, that’s the first thing you see and you usually get to see it for hours and hours. Maybe my experience wasn’t typical, but it’s all I’ve got so far.

Let’s hope it stays that way.

Have you been to ER in Australia? How was it for you? Please do let me know in the comments below.

Oh, I’m sure you are all wondering what I was thinking to myself that I should really be wearing just as that blob struck my eye? Well, of course it’s a pair of these…

safety goggles
Visa Assessment Service
{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Matt January 11, 2014, 10:42 am |

    Bob, this exact experience happened to me last night. Luckily for me my wife was home and after running my eye under water for 30 min she took me to the hospital. There was a bit of a wait but there were lots of people waiting in the room so I think they were pretty busy. They flushed my eye out with 1L of saline. The way they do it is pretty freaky but when you may go blind you’ll let them do anything right? The doctor said I only had one laceration on my eye so it should heal.
    Apparently if you don’t flush these out with water straight away for 20-30 minutes, you could easily lose your sight. Chlorine is not a chemical to be taken lightly. I will be wearing my goggles to put chlorine in the pool from now on too!

    • BobinOz January 13, 2014, 2:23 pm |

      Yes, scary isn’t it? The thought of losing the sight of one eye isn’t pleasant, so yes, they can flush however they like 🙂

      Goggles is the way to go, with both chlorine and the even more dangerous hydrochloric acid.

      Cheers, Bob

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