When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji earlier this year, emergency services were on high alert all across the pacific. Those services included a number of NZNO nurses who also volunteered for the New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT). Emma Brooks who normally works at the Kenepuru Operating Theatre and Megann Deveraux from the Wellington Regional Hospital Operating Theatre both deployed to Suva with the NZMAT on 1 March. We had a chat to Emma about what happened on the deployment and what it means to be part of NZMAT.
What is NZMAT and who is involved with it?
It’s basically a team of medical professionals that are trained to deploy to disaster areas to support the local health service. There are doctors, nurses, paramedics, allied health staff and even some non-medical members that work in areas like logistics. We all go through training to be able to be deployed. It’s a civilian based group so we aren’t part of the defence forces in any way but we do help with their disaster relief efforts.
What happened while you were deployed?
We left New Zealand on 1 March and flew directly into Suva with the help of the NZ Air force. We were a part of four teams, two of which were surgical, one general, and one orthopaedic and two were primary health. Because I’m a theatre nurse, I was in one of the surgical teams which was based at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital. We were there as support. We had to be flexible in what we did and had to take on the extra work that had been created due to the Cyclone. Our arrival was almost perfect timing as one of the Fijian Orthopaedic surgeons ended up in ICU the day before we arrived.
Over the two weeks we were there, we did 102 surgical cases over 12 days of surgery. These were cyclone and non-cyclone trauma cases and elective surgeries. The othropaedic team even did an emergency inter-island trip to Labasa Hospital on the northern island of Fiji. We were flown there by the French Airforce, however, they didn’t serve croissants or coffee on the flight.
What was most memorable about the deployment?
Working on the victims was by far the hardest thing we did. We did lose a couple people due to the trauma they had endured. Because of the cyclone, the Fijian health services were stretched, any countries would be, and we tried our best to help where we could. The cyclone had caused such destruction, we had to work with very limited supplies. Having said that, it was a privilege to be there. The people we helped, they all were all incredible
There are various requirements to be able to join NZMAT. Go to the Ministry of Health website to find more information.