This is what it is like to be part of a child health unit
REPORTER TESS IKONOMOU AND PHOTOGRAPHER EVAN MORGAN VISITED TOWNSVILLE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL'S 30-BED CHILDREN'S WARD AND DISCOVERED SOME PAINFUL BUT HEART-WARMING STORIES AND INSPIRING PROFESSIONALS WORKING IN THE FIELD
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS FOR DR DRINKWATER
Juggling care for several patients at once in different parts of a hospital is a stress paediatrician Dr Lucy Drinkwater takes in her stride.
When rostered on the Townsville University Hospital's 30-bed children's ward in the afternoon and evening, the 29-year-old will be the only doctor there, with a more senior doctor on call.
Apart from being rostered on the ward, she also sees children in the clinic who have been referred to the hospital, assesses babies in the maternity ward, treats babies and children in the emergency department and supports the discharge of children from intensive care.
Dr Drinkwater also attends ward rounds where doctors assess patients and develop a treatment plan and she helps smaller regional hospitals with their patients, including at Charters Towers, Ingham and Palm Island.
"It can be really stressful, I try not to be stressed especially around the kids. At the end of the day you have to try to work with your boss, the nursing staff, with everyone else to move things forward," she said.
"If you have a million and one things to do and you're trying to do a really good (job) for everybody, and sometimes we reach our maximum capacity - I can't be at five places in once.
"For some people, they're waiting just for me, for them to go home, or actually they're really, really worried about their baby and it's not the sickest one I need to see.
"You're trying to do your best and you're trying to please everyone, and I'm a bit of a people pleaser so I don't like to feel like people are upset with me.
"I find it stressful if I think I could have done a better job, that's the main thing. That's why I go home thinking if I made a mistake, if I should have done something sooner, I said something that could have set a mum off. But generally here we're really well supported."
Having grown up with parents who owned childcare centres, Dr Drinkwater spent her university holidays and after-school hours working shifts in them before joining the profession in 2015.
"I really like kids … I find it hilarious, I could watch a three-year-old all day," she said.
"I think they're so funny and nicer than adult medicine. People don't take good responsibility for themselves and I find that really frustrating, whereas you can never really be mad at a kid. It's not really their fault what's happening."
She said she found it fulfilling to help some of the most vulnerable patients.
"It's really satisfying, even with the kids with chronic conditions you can see yourself making a difference to them and that difference will go on for the rest of their life," she said.
"I think you can make a big difference to listening to parents as well, and making sure they still trust the medical profession."
Dr Drinkwater's desire to join the profession stemmed from the frequent visits to the hospital she made as a child.
"Not through any chronic condition, I just had lots of stuff - clumsy mostly," she said.
I had my appendix out, broke my arm a bunch of times. We had a really nice hospital in Edinburgh, where I grew up, and that probably influenced me in a lot of ways."
But the pathway to specialising isn't easy, with doctors managing long shifts while studying for their exams, which have a high failure rate.
"It can be a cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat," Dr Drinkwater said.
"You're constantly trying to CV build. I think that's one of the hard things about being a doctor, you can never just do your job.
"You're always trying to have more things published or doing audits or courses. You're constantly having to do extra stuff and you also have exams on the top of that.
MOTHER KEEPS VIGIL OVER SICK DAUGHTER
Teenager Piper Ohl had to have part of her skull removed and spent a couple of nights in the Townsville University Hospital's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit before being moved to the children's ward after having major surgery.
The 13-year-old was diagnosed with the neurological condition chiari malformation and this week had a major build-up of fluid on her spinal cord removed, which was causing her spine to curve, and a patch to the skull.
"It's pretty scary, it's a big surgery and at the moment she has a lot of headaches and has nausea from the surgery," her mum Jo Ohl said.
"It's really hard, she has a brother and you have to balance another child as well. But we have a lot of family support here. It's extremely hard seeing them in so much pain and knowing there's nothing you can do."
Ms Ohl said she and her daughter would be in hospital for at least another three days post operation with Piper unable to go back to school for at least six weeks.
"The nurses have been fantastic, I couldn't say a bad word about any of them," she said.
"They made it a lot easier for us.
"Nothing was too much to ask for, they went above and beyond in my opinion."
STAFF SUPPORT SEES OLIVIA AND MUM THROUGH
For Ingrid Matthews, accessing medical care for her 21-month-old daughter Olivia hasn't been easy, having travelled more than 40,000km last year alone.
The 33-year-old has spent nearly three months away from her home and family, who live on a station north of Julia Creek.
Olivia had a Nissen fundoplication, a procedure to correct reflux aspiration, and then developed a post-operation complication.
"It's been hard, I have three other children and a husband back on the station, I've seen them once in 11 weeks," Ms Matthews said.
"I'm in her room with her sleeping on the fold-out couch. I've just got to keep going for her. She keeps getting up with her smile.
"The nurses and doctors are helping me get through and the cleaning ladies, they all have a chat tell you to keep going and tell you you're doing a good job."
Ms Matthews said her mother-in-law had left her own station to help the family get through the rough patch while she travelled thousands of kilometres for medical appointments.
"You really miss them and it's hard on the kids, they don't understand and are wondering when we're coming home," she said.
"The joys of living remote I suppose."
Ms Matthews said the support from the hospital staff was helping her get through the stress.
"It's been a really nice experience they've all been amazing and willing to do anything," she said.
"And Olivia loves them all as well, it makes it easier for you.
"They tried absolutely everything, it's a very rare post-op complication and it usually responds to treatment but in this case it hasn't.
"It's very reassuring you know they're not going to give up on you and try to make sure you're as healthy as possible."
Originally published as SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Townsville Hospital's children's ward