RED Cross foreign aid nurse Catherine Salmon has seen more trauma, heartbreak, hope and triumph in the last 14 years than most of us will see in a lifetime. From stitching up bullet wounds and mending shattered limbs, to helping children walk again, Ms Salmon has nursed countless people back to health all over the world in extreme conditions.
A qualified nurse and aid worker, who is now back working in Sydney, Salmon has made an incredible 14 trips overseas to war zones and poverty-struck locations including Sudan, Libya and the Gaza Strip.
Catherine Salmon has been head nurse providing critical care during armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen. Her remarkable feat has been recognised with the awarding of nursing’s highest honour, the Florence Nightingale Medal. Only about 40 Australian nurses have received the award.
The Florence Nightingale Medal will presented to Ms Salmon and fellow nurses Ruth Jebb and Anne Carey by the Governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove at a special ceremony in December.
Ms Salmon said receiving the medal was completely overwhelming and her phone hadn’t stopped ringing for two days after it was announced.
“You don’t do the work thinking that you’re going to end up with a medal in your hand,” Ms Salmon said. “It’s incredible to think that your work has been noticed.”
Ms Salmon said foreign aid work could be incredibly demanding.
“There were days when you go home and kind of wished you worked in a flower shop or something where everyone came in and bought flowers and were really happy. But, you know, you pick yourself up and keep going. “There was never ever a time when I ever wanted to leave the profession.”
Ms Salmon said she coped by just dealing with whatever emergency came in methodically and sensibly.
“I was up in the north Darfur once when we had a young guy came in with a completely shattered leg late at night one night, and the surgeon — we didn’t’ have any X-rays so the surgeon was actually able to stabilise this leg just by feel ... when I got to work the next morning, all the nurses were waiting for me at the door of the ward, and they go, “Catherine!” and I go, “What?” They just marched me down the ward to this patient they said, “What is this?” and they’d never seen anything like it, this man with big steel rods coming out of his leg.”
“Off he went and came back a couple of weeks’ later with his x-ray tucked up under his arm, the pins were still in perfect condition and the leg was perfect and we were able to take the pins out. I mean the resilience I think of the people was just one of the things that continues to amaze.”
Ms Salmon said it was incredibly satisfying to see him walk again.
“(Without that treatment) he would have ended up with incredible infections, possibly lost his leg, maybe septic, probably lost his life. To see that just by simply using the basics that he was able then to be able to continue looking after his family. Yeah. It means the world. And it happens day after day.”
Ms Salmon tells another story of a young girl in South Sudan who had been in hospital for months with an infected foot that would not heel, who she treated.
“I actually went back a few months later and the second day I was back there she was with her mother in the hospital and she was just grinning because she’d gone back to school for the first time in a year and I said I’ve never seen a little girl so happy to be back at school!”
“It’s just moment likes that and there’s many, many, many moments like that over the years many, many moments … It makes it all worthwhile.”
Jane Salmon’s story features in Season 3 of the Red Cross podcast How Aid Works, available on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and at redcross.org.au.
Source: sslcam news; Zenon Kosmider, The Daily Telegraph
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