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Working together to recover

 I wrote this column quite literally from the middle of the greatest flood that Brisbane has seen since 1974 - the second ‘once in 100 years’ flood in just 30 years.  They said it could not happen again, but it has.

17 Jan 2011

By Dr Steve Hambleton

I wrote this column quite literally from the middle of the greatest flood that Brisbane has seen since 1974 - the second ‘once in 100 years’ flood in just 30 years.  They said it could not happen again, but it has.

Since just after last Christmas, a great proportion of Queensland and northern New South Wales has been in the grip of a most unusual weather event - towns and cities have had their yearly rainfall in just a few days.

Western Queensland towns that have not seen decent rain for 10 years went underwater, some twice in a fortnight.  Rockhampton -one of the State’s biggest cities - was cut off for days by road, by rail, and by air.  Totally isolated.

Gympie, Maryborough, Dalby, St George, Toowoomba, Grantham, Chinchilla, Emerald, Theodore, Condamine - all these communities have had tragedies unfold that will leave a mark for years, generations.

And these are just a few of the communities that have been hit.  There are towns, villages, camping grounds, caravan parks, and farms that have felt the full force of nature.  Businesses, too, have been wiped out.

This event has been watched by the whole world with information flowing via the radio, television, email, websites, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, plus the more conventional channels of telephone, mail, fax, and word-of-mouth.

Being here in the middle of the devastation is so much like a Hollywood set that the real impact has not really yet hit home.

Queenslanders and their fellow Australians have dug deep into their pockets to support the flood appeal.  The AMA Queensland Foundation (the charity arm of the local AMA members) also donated $10,000.  Some of those donors will become the recipients of the support that they helped to fund.

I wish to congratulate the AMA Queensland, its President Gino Pecoraro, President Elect Richard Kidd, CEO Jane Schmitt and media manager Stephanie Shield for their leadership at a time when Brisbane was in crisis.

AMA Queensland had to be shut down and these four dedicated people were taking calls at home to keep the communication lines open with Queensland Health and our members and people in the community.  The AMA Queensland's ‘Find a Doctor’ website and iPhone app are being updated with the latest availability of GPs in this crisis to help connect our members with our patients. 

Some surgeries have been flooded and could not open.  Most surgeries and hospitals for that matter could not be fully staffed when people were either not able to get to work or in fear that they could not get home.

A landslide closed a local nursing home, with 41 high-care residents needing urgent transfer.

A nearby home opened its doors to all 41 people.  One of our members, whose own surgery in Brisbane City was flooded and shut down, went to his local nursing home to chip in.

After his rounds, he announced: “I will do whatever you need me to do.”  He was prepared to pitch in with his medical student son and daughter and stayed to support patients and their relatives. 

A visiting physiotherapist pitched in with the remaining staff to finish bathing the residents and restore their comfort.  On behalf of the residents and medical colleagues, I say “Thank You” to that GP and that physiotherapist – and all the volunteer health professionals across the State – who are doing all they can to contribute to the recovery from this disaster.

There are so many acts of kindness and human decency occurring at the moment.  Most of these acts go unnoticed and without the recognition that they deserve.

The real work of recovery starts now as the water recedes.

The mess and the mud, the debris and the rubbish, the smell that just won’t go away, and the shock and the grave reality that gradually sinks in.

We have heard of the mosquitoes and the infections, the need for clean water and safe food, the loss of property and the tragic loss of life, but another real challenge will be the mental health of our community.  Mental illness is often the forgotten illness.

It is a great characteristic of Australians that they pitch in together in adversity - whether it be fire, whether it be drought, or whether it be flood.  That spirit is what we need right now.

It is not just the people who have suffered loss.  It is not just the adults.  Our children have also been exposed to those terrible images of people in cars being swept away over and over and over.

We must strive to maximise the mental ‘wellness’ of our community.

We need to focus on the positives and encourage our patients to talk about their experiences and to realise that they are not alone.

The real work often starts when the volunteers go home.

The impact will be felt for months, years, and generations to come.  Together we will overcome it. Together we will learn from it.  We will be a closer community as a result.

Published: 17 Jan 2011