Paramedic's paradise

HIGH CALLING: Milford Sound emergency response team leader Alison Wright looks over Milford Sound from Mitre Peak.
HIGH CALLING: Milford Sound emergency response team leader Alison Wright looks over Milford Sound from Mitre Peak.

British paramedic Alison Wright is counting down her return to Milford Sound. Hannah McLeod catches up with the Sound's first emergency response team leader.

New Zealand has ruined Alison Wright's tastebuds. But the love affair for the country and in particular Milford Sound has her eagerly counting down the weeks until she returns from the United Kingdom.

Her love affair with Fiordland started a year ago. For her 30th birthday she decided to something a little bit different.

In March last year, the paramedic from Lincoln in the United Kingdom planned a trip to New Zealand.

She wanted to spend one month travelling and one month working, but searches for jobs under "paramedic" had no results.

So she typed in "emergency" and one job came up for an emergency response team leader in Milford Sound for five months. Wright, who had never been away from Lincoln for more than 3 weeks, then had to tell her family of her plans.

"I didn't tell anyone I was planning the trip, and when I told my Dad, he said ‘Oh, Milford in Wales, that's not so far away'.

"My Mum told me I'd break my Nana's heart." Wright fell in love with Milford Sound, and cried when she flew out of Queenstown on her way back to the UK.

She has now applied for a migrant's visa so she can return to the role in October.

During her five months in Milford, she saw 65 patients, a stark contrast to her job in the UK, where she would see 20 a day.

"It's a different pace in Milford, and I missed the patient contact," she said.

"In fact, work was so slow she set up her own medical clinic for Milford Sound staff, mostly dealing with the common cold, and educating people about sexual health.

Thankfully, there were no fatalities while Wright was working here.

There would usually be one a week while on the job in Lincoln, she said.

She was nervous about how St John volunteers, and staff at the Te Anau medical centre would receive her.

"I thought there might be friction, being young and blonde and English," she said with a laugh.

But instead, Wright found a wonderfully supportive community.

Despite being a bit homesick at Christmas and on Boxing Day, Wright said, Milford Sound was not nearly as isolated as she had been warned.

"I was expecting to hardly see anyone, but I never felt lonely," she said.

The people who lived and worked in Milford were like a family, she said.

Her time back at home in the UK has not been restful.

"I want to expand the role and develop it further, so I've been training and refining my skills," she said.

Wright has been doing courses in Lincoln so she will be qualified to give out immunisations, and is able to suture wounds.

She is paying for many of the courses herself. "I set myself quite high standards," she said.

She wants to foster the relationship between the organisations which respond to emergencies in Milford, and wants to be more proactive in working with the Fire Service.

With just a paua shell, a few pebbles, and many photos to remind her of her Kiwi home away from home, Wright is looking forward to coming back to Kiwi tucker.

"New Zealand has ruined my tastebuds! Everything tastes so bland over here."

But perhaps the thing she has missed most in New Zealand is an actual Kiwi.

"I've met a Kiwi bloke." Wright kept tight-lipped on the man she met while in Milford, but said he was a great cook, and they have kept in touch via Skype.

Wright is excited for her imminent return to New Zealand, and to Milford.

"I can't wait. I'm counting down the weeks," she said.

The Southland Times