I have been working in the Operations Control Center (OCC) of TAA for three months, organising air ambulance flights from the ground. My role serves as a link between the client, ground ambulance companies, TAA’s Medical Desk and our Flight Crews. Today as part of my training, I have the exclusive opportunity to experience a mission from a bird’s eye view. Fasten your seatbelts, we are about to take off!
Outbound flight: Innsbruck – Zürich
Marco the technician pulls our aircraft out of the hanger. As the Citation is being fueled over the left wing and the Flight Nurse Patrick loads the remaining oxygen cylinders, the flight crew Mario and Philipp perform their pre-flight inspections around the aircraft. They carefully check all surfaces, levers and lights before the five of us take off on our mission.
I sit between anesthesiologist Florin and intensive care nurse Patrick, who are letting me participate in their extravagant second occupation today. During take-off, the first sunbeams dip the Inn valley in a warm, red light. I hold myself close to the window to enjoy the breathtaking alpine panorama.
At 8 o’clock, it is time for a small breakfast with coffee. Patrick’s voice comes from the back of the plane, “You know, I’m not only a nurse, but also a stewardess!“
Medical Crew, Patrick and Florin
It takes a special career path to become a flight nurse at TAA. After completing intensive care nursing training, you must have at least two years of experience working in an intensive care unit to be eligible to begin a number of further specific air ambulance trainings (e.g. aircraft evacuation training).
Patrick flies several times a month and works full-time as an intensive care nurse in the internal medicine department of the Innsbruck University Hospital. In his spare time, he trains for triathlon competitions that take place in the summer. Florin travels from Salzburg in order to fly for TAA. Between his missions for TAA, he works as a doctor in intensive care medicine and anesthesia in the Salzburg Hospital of the Brothers of Charity (“Barmherzigen Brüder”). The Romanian-born doctor studied medicine in Athens before moving to Vienna, then Linz and finally on to western Austria. Florin and Patrick inform me about the medical situation of the Polish patient we are going to pick-up: COPD is a lung disease that progresses chronically over decades.
We also discuss about literature, philosophy and the right attitude to the profession. From now on, we have an agreement: Every time I tell Florin by phone about his next assignment, I must also tell him which book I read the night before. I am happy to meet such exciting people.
Flight with patient: Zurich – Poznan
After less than an hour’s flying time, we arrive in the Swiss capital, where we are met by a Follow-Me-car. The handling agent greets us kindly and informs us that the ground ambulance carrying the patient has arrived. The ambulance parked next to our plane on the runway and the paramedic exchanged details with Florin about the patient’s current health status. I find it touching to see how well trained and helpful the whole team is.
The pilot Mario stows the patient’s bags in the luggage compartment, while co-pilot Philipp is already preparing the stretcher to enter the aircraft. Surprisingly, the older lady is doing better than expected, so she is able to board the aircraft by herself.
It quickly becomes clear that the patient is only able to communicate in Polish. Florin and Patrick are able to communicate with her despite the language barrier. For example, Florin used a mixture of Romanian, German and hand gestures to indicate that she had to wear her oxygen mask during the flight. I manage to correctly interpret, without speaking Polish, that the lady wanted something to drink, so Patrick gave her a bottle of water with a straw. Working together, the flight went smoothly and according to plan.
After landing, I expect to stay with the pilots at the airport while the doctors accompany the patient to the hospital. But then the plan changes, as Florin and the nice ground ambulance driver unanimously agree that I can accompany the patient to the hospital. I’m amazed at how open they are with me as a companion on this mission.
On the way, the ambulance siren is used quite often. The paramedic says with a smile that in Poland, the laws for flashing blue lights are not necessarily as strict as in Austria or Germany!
Arriving at the clinic, I notice how carefully the paramedic lifts the petite woman from the stretcher, placing her in a wheelchair swiftly and without unnecessary complication.
He accompanies us to the hospital, where the wooden paneling and linoleum flooring are comparable to the gymnasium of a school. At the ward, the patient is received by a nurse and taken to a room containing three beds.
The patient and her daughter – both obviously relieved that the journey has finished – thank each of us for our efforts.
During the formal handover of the patient, we are asked to provide the medical report of the treating hospital in Zürich. In that moment, my department comes into play! Florin asks my colleague from the OCC to request the doctor’s letter.
The journey home
On the way back to the airport, Florin tells me about other situations in which we in the OCC are asked to find solutions. He also explains to me the realities of airports and why there are often delays at the airport itself, which was a great insight. We ourselves have difficulties finding our pilots in the extensive airport area. Thankfully, we locate our handling agent, who leads us to the crew check-in. The medical team is allowed to pass through, but I have to wait, because my airline ID is not with me, but on the plane!
I am told to wait, and I’m a little concerned that I might soon add to the reasons why missions are delayed! My dedicated colleague from the OCC sends me the crew confirmation in digital form, which is not accepted by the authorities. Luckily, the handling agent locates me, gives me a boarding pass and brings me through the fastline, bypassing all commercial passengers and reuniting me with my crew. We meet again with our pilots in the Business Lounge and begin the journey home after a short refreshment break. At about 3pm, we glide past the familiar snow-covered Tyrolean mountain peaks and arrive back at our homebase safe and sound, after an interesting and rewarding mission.