Bali attack brings out the best in nurses

A group of Newcastle families dining together in Bali copped the full force of a bomb that killed three of the group and left 11 seriously injured. The tragedy has rocked the Newcastle community’  including nurses at John Hunter Hospital who have been caring for the injured survivors.

On 1 October 2005 three bombs exploded in the popular restaurants at Bali’s Jimbaran Bay and Kuta Beach, killing 22 people and injuring scores of victims.

A group of Newcastle families with children at the local St Francis Xavier College on holiday together were dining in a crowded restaurant at Jimbaran Bay when the second bomb exploded. Novocastrians Jennifer Williamson, Colin Zwolinski and Fiona Zwolinski were killed in the blast and 13 of the group were seriously injured.

Nine victims of the bomb blast were airlifted to their home city of Newcastle and ferried by a fleet of ambulances to the John Hunter Hospital for treatment, where they were reunited with friends and families.

Two patients were admitted to the hospital’s high-dependency unit and the other patients to the general surgery ward.
At the time of printing, two patients had been discharged and the other seven patients were in a stable condition and are expected to have a full recovery.

According to acting NUM of the general surgery ward at John Hunter Hospital, Jonine Sinclair, nurses caring for the Bali bombing victims have demonstrated outstanding levels of professionalism and commitment. The tragedy has brought out the best in nurses at the John Hunter Hospital.

‘This ward is a busy high acuity unit. The nurses have maintained high levels of competency and clinical skills and have worked long hours under very stressful cir-cum-stances doing what they can for these patients.

‘Working closely as a team has helped us get through. We have had great support from the medical teams and hospital management has also been very supportive.’

Jonine says it is important to acknowledge the psychological impact on nurses caring for patients who have undergone such traumatic ordeal.

‘This is the first time we have been in a situation nursing the victims of a terrorist attack. It’s not something we have experienced before.

‘Nurses have been dealing with more than just the patients’ injuries. The patients are very traumatised and so are their families and loved ones. It was two days before the patients could be flown to Newcastle and reunited with their families and friends and it has been a very anxious time,’ she said.

‘Newcastle is a very close-knit community and everyone has been very affected by what happened. Some of the nurses know the patients they are caring for.

‘We’re having regular debriefing sessions, and I anticipate nurses will need ongoing debriefing and support for some time,’ said Jonine.

‘The nurses working with these patients have really demonstrated their skill and professionalism. It’s been an absolute honour working alongside them,’ she said.

As a CNS in the high dependency unit, Jo-anne Whitson has been working with two of the most seriously injured patients.

‘It was a new experience for me caring for patients with injuries like this. They both sustained extensive shrapnel wounds in the bomb blast and are suffering multiple traumas.

‘Even though we had small numbers of patients coming to John Hunter Hospital it was very hectic at first and we worked very long hours treating their injuries.’

While the initial priority was to stabilise the patients and treat their physical injuries, Jo-anne says it is clear these patients are also suffering deep psychological trauma.

‘The patients in my ward have responded very differently. One is just elated that he is alive, at this stage. He was sitting right next to one of the victims killed. The other patient is very depressed. Both patients said they could still smell the bomb and the first thing they wanted was to be washed.

‘The emotional trauma will live on long after the injuries have healed. These patients will require ongoing psychological counselling.’

‘Being close to home with friends and family is helping the patients to recover,’ said Jo-anne.

The Newcastle community has been widely affected by the tragedy, according to Jo-anne. Many families have been touched and many know someone who has been affected.

‘It’s been difficult standing by and watching the distress and anxiety of the families and loved ones of the patients. There have been lots and lots of tears. I’ve been quite affected by this.

‘I’ve never experienced nursing under these circumstances. At the back of my mind I’ve often wondered what it would be like nursing the aftermath of an attack or large-scale disaster. But I clicked into clinical mode, focusing on doing what I can to help these people. That’s the best that I can do for them,’ she said.