Always on duty

Book bound: St John Havelock volunteer ambulance officer Jo Douglas is extending her medical skills by studying for a health science degree.
Book bound: St John Havelock volunteer ambulance officer Jo Douglas is extending her medical skills by studying for a health science degree.

The nine years of voluntary work Jo Douglas has given to St John Ambulance in Havelock will be recognised in the township on Wednesday night.

The Havelock Theatre Company is launching its newest production Wally Gitt and the Havelock Mission to Mars that night with a "Jo's Show", when all proceeds will go to her for her paramedic studies.

Jo is about to start her third and final year's study toward a health science degree in paramedics at Whitireia Polytechnic. She sees it as a natural progression from her volunteer ambulance work.

After joining St John nine years ago, she has completed a first aid course, an ambulance course and most recently obtained a national ambulance officer's certificate.

"The more you learn the more you realise you don't know," she says on a call from her car this week. It was the end of a nine-hour shift working for the St John medical alarm service. Her duties with it stretch from Collins Valley, in the Rai Valley area, to Kaikoura and all the centres in between.

At the end of each day Jo goes home to her husband, daughter, stepson and nephew. They must compete for her time during the academic year with her fulltime, long -distance study at Whitireia, as well as her commitments to St John.

Her ambulance pager is turned on 24-seven.

"Sometimes I can be on call five, six nights a week.

"Now we have a few more volunteers it can be just two or three nights a week, but we carry a pager which goes 24 hours a day. If we're in Havelock when it goes off we respond without being on the roster. We ring Dispatch and say we're available."

Jo's ambulance career started after reading a St John promotional flier calling all Havelock householders to consider volunteering to keep the ambulance service operating.

Jo says her daughter was only four at the time but St John was willing to work around family and parental responsibilities.

She gives a succinct answer when asked what keeps her motivated: "To gain the training to provide comfort for someone in your community in their time of need."

There are no paramedics with St John Havelock so its ambulance officers assess patients and call for assistance if more advanced care is needed.

Paramedics from Blenheim, Nelson or "from a helicopter dropping out of the sky" are able to give intravenous pain relief, fluids to people in hypervolemic shock after bleeding heavily, or other advanced, life-saving first-aid.

"[Ambulance] training allows you to judge quite quickly how serious the situation is; then we can hurry them [paramedics] up."

Jo moved to Havelock from Wellington after visiting her sister , who was living in Marlborough.

"I was over the big-town thing. It was nice to come to a small town where there was a community and people know each other's names.

"Nineteen years later I'm still here."

Asked what she will do when she has completed the health science degree, Jo says she has already got a casual ambulance job with St John Marlborough.

"Hopefully by the time I complete my degree I will be able to slide into a fulltime paramedic position."

In Havelock?

Jo is unsure. St John Havelock is an entirely volunteer station, a status unlikely to change in the immediate future.

"But I'm still going to live in Havelock so I'm always going to be there on my days off."

Wednesday night's fundraising preview of Wally Gitt and the Havelock Mission to Mars starts at 8pm in the Havelock Town Hall.

The Marlborough Express