Highway horror takes toll on ambo
WADE Walker never forgets the faces of the dead.
Last week, Mr Walker, an ambulance paramedic for 20 years, quit in disgust at the seemingly endless parade of needless carnage on our roads.
It’s a decision Mr Walker said many ambulance officers toy with on a day-to-day basis because of the psychological impact of the job.
In a chilling revelation, Mr Walker told how he had dreamed of a woman who had lay dead after a car crash.
It was a face that he didn’t recognise, so after repeated dreams over a few days earlier this year, Mr Walker convinced himself the crash had not yet taken place.
One particular Thursday morning, Mr Walker said he woke with a terrible sense of pending doom and decided to take the day off work to somehow avert the crash.
The first job he attended the next day was a car crash with a female deceased.
Mr Walker recognised the face from his dreams.
Though this was the first “premonition” experience Mr Walker had, he spoke of the anguish brought on by attending everything from cot deaths to unexpected deaths of aged people, youth suicides and of course road trauma.
He said he had attended six serious motor vehicle crashes in late 2009/early 2010 involving 10 people – five died, four were left with critical injuries and one had minor injuries.
But it was the tragic death of Nathan Zanuso, 27, early this year that was instrumental in Mr Walker’s decision to quit.
Nathan was a successful rope technician and extreme sport enthusiast who died eight days after a crash in which a B-Double truck hit his ute at Ulmarra in the early hours of Thursday, February 11.
“To see this young, strong, strapping man fighting for his life at the crash scene was absolutely devastating,” Mr Walker said. “It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve ever vomited at a crash scene.”
Mr Walker said the scene was so dark he and his partner had trouble locating the vehicle.
“I heard Nathan breathing, before I saw him,” he said.
Mr Walker said he was surprised Nathan didn’t die at the scene.
“I think that’s because he was so fit and strong and he knew that his mum and dad were in New Zealand ... and he hung on for them.”
Mr Walker, who hails from the same area as Nathan’s family, Albury/Wodonga, volunteered to deliver Nathan’s belongings to them.
“That was heart-wrenching ... to talk to people who’ve had their only son slaughtered on the Pacific Highway,” he said.
Mr Walker lashed out at consecutive governments, State and Federal, for not fast-tracking the Pacific Highway upgrade.
“It’s in an appalling state ... 65kph bends on a national highway ... it’s a disgrace.
“NSW Coroner Kevin Wallace recommended 22 years ago that the highway be upgraded by the year 2000. I heard him talking about it on radio some time ago; he’s still got his own anguish and disappointments that it hasn’t been done.
“But it’s also driver behaviour.”
The 51-year-old father of three said the belief that emergency services workers hardened up to trauma was a fallacy in most cases.
“As you get older you become more affected by what you see because you’re dealing with some of these people that are the same age as your kids,” he said.
“That drives the nail home fairly hard as well.
“I’ve always had a passion to treat the critically injured, that doesn’t phase me, I just get in and I do my job. But I don’t like what I see.
“Ambulance paramedics are not robots. It’s basically a war zone out there you know; Nathan’s vehicle was almost like it had been blown apart by a bomb or hit by an army tank, and he didn’t stand a chance.”
Mr Walker, who moved to Grafton in 2000, said he had not moved his family to Grafton because of the disruption of multiple callouts.
“My family have seen what I go through,” he said. “My son Joseph said to me the day after my uncle’s funeral ‘Dad, you need to get out of this job that you’re doing’, I said ‘why’s that son?’.
“Because it’s killing you,’ he said, ‘you won’t live that much longer if you keep doing it’.”