The wrong side of emergency

Date published

25 Jan 2019

Doctor Tim Duncan had seen accidents, illness and death, but when his own car veered off a quiet Northern Territory Road, he found himself on the grim side of life – with no emergency response in sight.

The Flying Doctor often builds a connection between medic, donor and patient. We tell our supporters of the stories we hear and the people we take care of, the lives affected and changed.

In some cases, this line is transcended. Tim Duncan, today a doctor with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, experienced the need for rural medical support first hand. It was an accident that turned his life around.

In 2008, Tim was a young doctor, who had just finished a month’s position at a hospital in Katherine, some 300 kilometres south of Darwin. “It felt like going into something new and exciting”, says Tim, as he remembers he and his girlfriend Hannah driving off that afternoon to spend a few days at Kakadu.

They drove along bush roads in the early evening and listened to the radio, going 130kph, as Tim recalls. To take your eyes off the road is always dangerous, but Tim desperately wanted to listen to the cricket and fiddled with the car radio.

“As you crash, there is no noise, it’s not loud, no screams and shouts”, says Tim. While searching for reception, Tim had veered the car off the road, sending their 4x4 spinning through the air.

“Thankfully Hannah had fairly minor injuries, but the car was destroyed”, says Tim. Surfacing from the blackness of crashing, he knew he wasn’t doing well.

Being a doctor, I realised I had multiple broken bones, including my arm, and I was bleeding from several places.

Dr Tim Duncan

When he touched the back of his head, he felt blood gushing out and he had trouble breathing. “I stared down my own mortality, while trying to hide the blood from Hannah. I was bleeding from my ears, but felt my chest injuries would be my undoing.”

Soon, his condition worsened. Hannah followed the remote bush road, desperately hoping for a passing car. In the seclusion of the outback, Tim soon passed out from his injuries.

He awoke as he was poked in the side. “I opened my eyes and saw this kind face looking down at me, asking ‘You alright, brother?’”, Tim says. Hannah had managed to stop a car and the three indigenous men travelling in it came to help.

An ambulance took Tim and Hannah to Jabiru, the closest town with medical facilities and an air strip, while there was a RFDS plane flying in from Darwin. “I had lost about two litres of blood and my lungs were just about to collapse, when I received emergency treatment”, recalls Tim.

He spent ten days at a Darwin Hospital and his recovery took months. Tim felt inspired to do more with his medical career, so he got extra qualifications in anaesthetics, and rural and remote medicine, focused his career on giving back the level of care that he was given. From there Tim eventually got a job with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.