My work as a web designer may seem unrelated to the Mackay Base Hospital. Yet, things are not always what they seem. But this article is mainly about the wonderful service I have received and the people I have met from the hospital over the last 10 years.
Heart Attack Time
While I had incidental visits to the Mackay Base Hospital beforehand, my long-term experience with the hospital started in October 2012, when I suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of the night. At the time I was a teacher, and it was the Sunday night before term 4 started.
My initial stay wasn’t long, as I was airlifted to Townville (thanks to another great service, the Royal Flying Doctors). But my heart attack left me with major damage to my heart. Basically, my heart no longer pumped well enough – a condition known as heart failure.
Adjusting to Heart Failure
My doctors told me that with medication, my heart function may improve for a period. But it would then gradually decline to a point where I would need a heart transplant. When I returned home to Mackay, I had a visit from Chris. She was the Heart Failure Nurse based in the Mackay Hospital.
Chris was a lovely lady who I am now lucky to call a friend. She guided me through structured medication increases, lifestyle changes and a suitable exercise regime to improve my health.
I have never been into exercise. I used to walk daily for health reasons, but I never enjoyed it. And I was a reluctant attendee at exercise classes in the hospital’s purple building. I attended my first class in thongs in a vain attempt to avoid the treadmill. While Chris was caring and supportive, she was also firm enough to whip me into exercising.
The Mackay Hospital’s Purple Building (aka Community Health Service)
My exercise program took place in the Mackay Base Hospital’s purple building (at the back of the hospital). Officially, it is known as CHATS (Community Health and Therapy Service). It became a regular haunt of mine until mid-2021.
It was in this purple building that I met another great employee of the Mackay Base Hospital. Her name was Shaneen. She was an exercise physiologist who, together with Chris, ran the exercise program for those of us who had suffered heart attacks.
Once again, I was fortunate that Shaneen also became one of my friends in Mackay.
My memory is not great, but I believe the initial program lasted 10 weeks.
The Rise & Fall of My Heart
Chris also guided me through ongoing tests on heart function. The tests were called Echoes and they are essentially ultrasounds of your heart. They are part of the hospital’s imaging medical services.
I remember telling her with joy that my health had improved. My heart function had gone back up to 75% of a normal person.
Then, thinking I was invincible I pulled away from the hospital, ignored my condition and tried to live a normal life. I went back to work as a teacher.
It was a big mistake to ignore my health condition. I was humbly honoured to have the privilege to get to know and help another wonderful class of Year 7 students. Yet, I couldn’t run away from my condition. My heart function got worse, I got weaker and by the end of term 1, I could no longer continue working as a teacher.
Back to the Care of the Base Hospital & the Purple Building
My health was now declining, slowly moving towards needing a heart transplant. During this time, I:
- Returned to the purple building many times and I continued getting help from Shaneen and Chris
- Had a few stays in the Cardiac Care Unit – one of the nurses was a parent of a past student 🙂
I also got to know a great cardiologist, Dr Michael who was always monitoring my health behind the scenes.
A Year Away from Mackay: Both Hospitals Were Great
In late 2016, I had just dropped my children off at school, and I got the call. Someone had tragically died, but there was a new heart waiting for me.
As this article is about my experience with the Mackay Hospital, I will keep this bit short. But it is important for context.
I went straight to the Mackay Airport and flew to Brisbane. I received my heart transplant at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane – both hospitals were amazing. The short story has two parts.
First, it didn’t go smoothly. My other organs shut down. I was in a coma for about a month. My muscles wasted away to the point that when I woke up, I couldn’t move my arms or legs (for a long time).
My gall bladder burst. I went septic, leading to both legs being amputated. I had 7 cardiac arrests (technically dying). I developed lymphoma and a fungal infection on my heart that the doctors said would kill me.
I asked to be transferred back to the Mackay Base Hospital so I could die at home in Mackay, with easy access to two children.
(The second part was I have wonderful memories of the Prince Charles Hospital – all due to the fantastic people who work there)
A Waiting Station in Different Ways
The original plan was that I would be transferred to the Base Hospital, then transferred again to the palliative care ward in the Mater Private Hospital Mackay.
The second transfer never happened. And the Base Hospital became a waiting station in two different ways.
Waiting to Die
My life expectancy was days, or at most weeks. I was back in the Mackay Hospital – this time to die. But since returning to Mackay, I felt ok (except my muscles were still so weak I couldn’t use a manual wheelchair). My health seemed fine.
I felt even better when I saw that Chris and Shaneen had decorated my room with welcome signs (and cake).
I was patiently waiting to die and just enjoying the presence of the people around me. They included nurses, wardies, cleaners and baristas. But, with little time to live, you take the time really interact with others as people rather than as their jobs.
And my praise for the Mackay Base Hospital is all about the people who work there. They even ignored that I had Friday afternoon drinks on the veranda with staff from my previous school.
But as each day passed, I continued to feel ok, and I eventually started thinking I need to start planning for living again. My health was improving and I wanted to go back to my home in Mackay.
Waiting to Leave
As I started to think about leaving the hospital and moving home. I realised that my home was not wheelchair friendly. In fact, I couldn’t get in or out of it. And, even if that problem was solved, I couldn’t shower or go to the toilet.
This is when I learned:
- How patient the Mackay hospital was
- How frustrating and uncaring the NDIS could be
I spent close to 6 more months in hospital purely because the NDIS wouldn’t approve any changes to my home. Apparently, all my needs were already being met by the hospital.
Thank goodness for the great nurses, social workers, physios, and staff at the coffee shop – they kept me sane. And, with one exception (out of 100s), always treated me with respect.
Back to Purple Building II
After leaving the hospital as an inpatient at the end of 2017. I returned to daily visits to the Purple Building.
This time, I wasn’t under the care of the Heart Failure Team, but rather the Community Health and Therapy Service (CHATS) staff themselves. Not only did I access their services, but I also got to know a whole new crew of amazing people. There are so many that I am worried I will accidentally miss some. But here goes.
I will start with CHATS physio services. Sarah was my amazing physio. She worked with me for the next 4 years. Initial work focused on building strength back in my arms and leg stumps. (I still struggle to lift a shopping bag with 2 x 2L bottles of milk in it).
After getting medical clearance, she shifted into helping me learn to walk with two prosthetic legs.
Sarah is a wonderful person (and physio). And I was really glad to see her married to her fiancé during the time she worked with me. Yet, as well as working with me personally she also coordinated a terrific team of assistants who I worked with regularly.
These included Jan, Peter, Tracy, Brielle, and Emily – fantastic people!
From time to time, I also worked with other physios, and I enjoyed their company in the gym, even when they were not working directly with me. These regularly included Lesley and Josh – marvellous company and great physios.
The physio services were great, but the people providing them were the true highlight.
Due to being incubated for so long, my speech had also become impaired. I could talk one-on-one, but I couldn’t project my voice as used to as a teacher.
Luckily CHATs had speech therapy services. I was fortunate to be assigned to my tremendous speech therapist – Ash. My first impression was to run away, as she told me coffee was bad for vocal cords (I’m a coffee addict). Luckily, I didn’t have legs, so I had to stay put and listen to her wisdom.
Over a long period of time, Ash helped my speech to get better and better.
I was always made to feel welcome by the wonderful Admin team, including the exceptional Tash and Liz.
And they patiently put up with me turning up at the wrong time, or on the wrong day.
The little things people do really make you feel accepted.
Other Health Professionals
To my knowledge, I didn’t work with anyone else in the CHATs team. But I incidentally got to know some upbeat OTs (Occupational Therapists), one of whom bought a puppy we were fostering for the RSPCA.
The Pharmacy & the Coffee Shop
I also got to know a lot of wonderful staff at the pharmacy. I have a medication list a mile long. And, as I was at the hospital every day for physio anyway, I kept my scripts there and would get some filled each week. Slowly I got to know the staff. Then every interaction with them made my day just that little bit brighter.
But it wasn’t all about physical health. I got the same buzz from getting to know the people in the coffee shop. They may not have known it, but as they got to know me (as I did daily physio & am a coffee addict), I enjoyed the brief chats we had each day.
Leaving the Purple Building
In mid-2021 I stopped going to the purple building. I had been accessing its services for nearly 10 years (longer than many of the staff).
It was sad to leave these people behind. And, even sadder that COVID has stopped me dropping in and keeping in touch.
But I have great memories of the purple building at the back of Mackay Base Hospital.
The End (sort of) of My Experience of the Mackay Hospital
I still go back to the hospital occasionally (e.g., some of my scripts must come from a hospital pharmacy). But their services are no longer a part of my day-to-day life. I miss the sense of community.
I have read stories of people who felt let down by the hospital. I don’t know their situation and I feel sad they have felt this way.
Given my long and regular interaction with the hospital – I wanted to share the wonderful way they have treated me. And feel honoured to have received such healthcare and support. I have stayed in a number of hospitals, but only 2 made me feel accepted and cared for. The Mackay Hospital was one of these.
5 stars aren’t enough to capture the wonderful experience I had.
If I had to recommend a hospital for long-term care – the Base Hospital Mackay would be one of them! And Mackay Community Health Service is second to none.
Every hospital I have been in has medical expertise and interventions I have needed. But they don’t all excel in helping patients to maintain their personal dignity. and feel valued as a person.
But Web Design?
Back to web design. Learning to walk is a very slow process, and I am not that confident it will ever happen. This interferes with my desire to go back to teaching.
But during this whole time, I created and worked on a website about evidence-based teaching. If I couldn’t help kids, I wanted to help other teachers make an even larger difference to their students.
Given it was a labour of love, I had very little money to spend, so I learned to do many things myself. Then I started making websites for friends, just as a favour.
While I haven’t completely given up hope of returning to teaching, website design is a practical career for me. And I still get to help people 😊!
This slow transition from teacher to web designer happened during the same time as my wonderful association with the hospital and its purple building.