Being a critical care doctor is an intense job for even the most experienced LifeFlight staff, so it’s fair to say that Swede Jesper Wallskog couldn’t have prepared himself for what was in store for the first day of his new job, in a new field, and a new country.
Having only completed one routine inter-facility transfer, Jesper was at the end of his first 48-hour on call shift when what seemed like a quiet day turned into a high-pressure all-nighter.
The crew was tasked to three back-to-back missions that night, responding to life threatening injuries including a snake bite and a gunshot wound to the head, in what Jesper humbly recalls as being “quite a handful for a first day at work”.
Unsurprisingly, Jesper is not one to back away from a challenge, having moved across the world with his wife and two children from Gothenburg in Sweden, to tropical Townsville.
Jesper’s no stranger to the nomadic lifestyle either, with his passion for travel having already taken him around the world, beginning with an exchange student stint in the United States when we was at school.
Though Jesper had been accepted into medical school upon completion of his conscripted service in the Swedish Army, he instead made decision to go backpacking with his wife for seven months.
When the couple returned to Sweden, Jesper reapplied for medical school with confidence on the back of his last acceptance, but his application was unexpectedly rejected.
“I always wanted to become a doctor and I didn’t really have a back-up plan, so for six months I was quite confused and I worried what I was going to do instead,” Jesper recalls.
“I just knew I was going to be a doctor… Ever since I was a kid, I never really wanted to do anything else.”
“Luckily I was accepted the next term but I sometimes think about what my life would be like if that rejection had been the final say.”
Once he completed his medical training, Jesper went on to work in a hospital in emergency medicine, intensive care and anaesthetics for over six years.
It was then a colleague of Jesper’s returned from Townsville after working with LifeFlight, and Jesper’s wanderlust struck again.
Eager to sign himself up for a new challenge and undertake a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Jesper got in touch with recruitment agency Head Medical, who helped him through the application process.
Head Medical have been working alongside LifeFlight for 10 years and have recruited over 45 registrars and consultants for the charity from around the world.
“We were just looking for some new challenges so I thought I would give it a go,” Jesper said.
A year later, Jesper, his wife, and his two young children found themselves travelling to Australia and settling in North Queensland to live a completely different lifestyle to what they’re accustomed to.
Since Jesper began his work for LifeFlight, he has found himself in a fair few unique situations, including a valiant effort that saw him plastered all over the news as a hero.
On his day off, Jesper happened to be driving through a local Townsville intersection immediately after a traffic accident.
With paramedics yet to arrive at the scene, Jesper didn’t hesitate for a moment before jumping out of the car, informing police that he was an emergency care doctor, and rushing to the side of a man who’d been struck by a ute.
The man was suffering critical injuries, and Jesper insisted on staying with him even after the ambulance had arrived, accompanying the man all the way to the hospital.
“I found it hard to let go... It just didn’t feel right to leave him like that,” Jesper said.
Unfortunately, the man’s injuries were critical and he was unable to recover.
“You have to remember that bad news is just a part of the job and not let it get to you on a personal level,” Jesper said.
“You try to do your best for the patient every time but sometimes the best effort is just not good enough… If they can get another chance at life, than that’s all you can really hope for.”
Of course the typical day off for Jesper looks far different from this.
The main drawcard to Queensland for many international recruits is the ability to visit some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Making the most of his time in Australia, he spends his free time fishing, playing tennis with his wife, swimming, running, and doing as much sight-seeing as possible while he has the chance.
Jesper describes his time exploring Australia and working with LifeFlight as the opportunity of a life time.
“My time here has been very rewarding and I have experienced, seen, and learned a whole lot,” he said,
“Working here I have had to adapt to more of an ED-way to do things which I can apply back home in Sweden.”
Though he has seen a wide variety of medical emergencies during his LifeFlight journey, Jesper funnily enough recalls his most memorable mission as a man on Great Keppel Island who had suffered a heart attack—the most common mission for LifeFlight.
“It was, in a way, an everyday mission, but in other ways it was absolutely out of the ordinary,” Jesper recalls.
“We were the first medical team there so we had to do it all from scratch and we ended up successfully treating the gentlemen on the scene.”
“I think we did a good job on that one and it was very rewarding to be able to give effective treatment right there and then and really be able to make a difference,” he said.
Having acquired a taste for retrieval medical, Jesper says he could definitely see himself continuing this career path.
“There are not as many doctors working with pre-hospital and retrieval medicine in Sweden as in Australia, but with this experience it would be possible for me,” he said.
“I would definitely consider that if I get the chance.”
Having already been bitten by the travel bug, Jesper hasn’t ruled out another overseas spell when his LifeFlight contract ends in January.
“I think spending a year abroad with the family and working in another country makes it easier the second time and it’s more likely that you will do it again,” he said.
Though it is a big decision for his family to move yet again with young kids, it seems Jesper’s children don’t mind following their father’s footsteps— even into medicine.
“My 5 year-old daughter is very interested in my job,” Jesper said.
”She says she wants to be a doctor. Or a hairdresser. Or maybe both,” he laughed.
2016-17 was a record year for LifeFlight for lifesaving missions with its aeromedical crews, community helicopters and Air Ambulance jets performing a record 5,342 missions throughout Queensland and around the world.