Dr Doug Turner at the Tweed Heads Hospital. Photo: John Gass / Tweed Daily News
Dr Doug Turner at the Tweed Heads Hospital. Photo: John Gass / Tweed Daily News John Gass

Retiring from surgery, but not from fighting for the Tweed

RESPECTED senior orthopedic surgeon Dr Doug Turner has retired after 30 years of mending bones, replacing hips and soothing joints at the Tweed Hospital.

Feeling "ambivalent" about finally hanging up his stethoscope, or rather, putting down his drill, Dr Turner said he took many wonderful memories into retirement.

He can vividly recall arriving at Julia Creek, west of Townsville, in 1974 as a junior doctor on a government scholarship.

It was trial by fire for the 25-year-old, who one stormy night had to deliver a baby while taking obstetrics instructions over the phone from a gynaecologist.

"I was the only doctor in town and we were completely flooded in, with no way in or out of town," he recalls.

"This woman had a retained placenta.

"She was haemorrhaging so she needed some blood.

"In that day, with no blood bank, you had to ring every single one of the donors on the blood panel.

"They (blood donors) came to the hospital, I had to take their blood myself and give it to the woman.

"I had to do a manual removal of the placenta under local aesthetic, which normally you do under general aesthetic.

"It was very stressful, but mother and baby survived.

"I was very young and junior at the time, but you know, these sorts of things, things you're not equipped to deal with; having to make decisions, is good for any young doctor."

Six months later Dr Turner moved to Emerald where a curious interest in mechanics and carpentry inspired a goal to become a surgeon.

"Orthopedic surgery combined the two," he said.

"If you talk to carpenters they say 'measure twice, cut once'; that applies exactly to orthopaedics too."

In 1978 when Dr Turner progressed to the role of Orthopedic Registrar (a training job in surgery) at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

Then, on a working holiday, he spent a year working in London and from there two years in New Zealand, where he progressed to surgery consultant.

"It was my first job as the boss and the first time I had to make the final decisions.

"It was a lot of responsibility and really stressful."

He left New Zealand for the Tweed and Murwillumbah hospitals in 1983, lured to the coast through his own fond memories as a university student.

"When the job came up in the Tweed, I thought 'you beauty!'."

Reflecting on his career, Dr Turner said he found it immensely satisfying, even though some of his patients' experiences have weighed heavily on his heart.

"It's never been just a matter of just fixing a bone, a hand or a foot.

"You really have to think of the person on the other end of it - they're the ones who matter.

"I've seen a little lady living on her own and get a knee replacement, and the stress of the surgery gets them over the edge, and they don't go home.

"In the end you've done them a disservice ... that can weigh heavily on your mind."

Now officially retired, Dr Turner has applied to be an Emeritus Consultant at the Tweed Hospital because he loves teaching.

But he hasn't booked any cruise ship holidays with wife Jenny just yet.

"There are things I'd like to do in life, like a bit of travel and fishing.

"The truth is I've never had enough time off to know what I can do."

At a special farewell on December 23, hospital colleagues praised his enduring care, sincerity and skill.

Dr Michael Tong was one of the many to pay tribute to the first full-time "orthopod" at the Tweed Hospital.

"Doug has told me that when he first came here there were no residents or registrars and he would respond directly to A & E calls," Dr Tong said.

"A picture of a wound or X-ray couldn't be sent on the mobile so I imagine responding to these calls would have been frustrating at times.

"What Doug would have given for MMS back then!"

Nurses such as operating theatre specialist Gail Bennett also praised the doctor.

"Doug is well respected at both hospitals and within the orthopedic and surgical communities and we will all miss him after his retirement," she said.

A word of advice

"Parents should have their sons do formal courses in anger management.

"You've got no idea how many broken knuckles I've had to fix from punching walls!" Dr Turner said.

The Tweed Hospital needs your help

DR Doug Turner and other senior clinicians at the Tweed Hospital have joined with the Tweed Daily News to campaign for urgently needed infrastructure.

About $211 million worth of hospital extensions are considered vital in order for the hospital to service Tweed's expanding population.

In his call for community support, Dr Turner said he is no stranger to lobbying for resources at the "neglected" hospital.

"Once we had a march that started at Twin Towns. Police closed off one half of the road for it and some of the doctors stood on 12-megalitre drums.

"I've been sworn at by politicians and a local member over threats to go to the press and so on.

"And that's what was required."

The most awful experience for Dr Turner at the Tweed Hospital was to operate on an exhausted patient who had suffered much longer than the promised one-year period.

"Just because the patient is crying at night with the pain, with prolonged suffering, it doesn't change anything as far as they're (NSW health ministry) concerned."

Support the Heal our Hospital campaign by writing to the MP for Tweed, Geoff Provest (tweed@parliament .nsw.gov.au), NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner (office@skinner .minister.nsw.gov.au) or the Tweed Daily News editor (letters@tweeddaily news.com.au) asking for funding for the Redevelopment Master Plan.

More info: tweeddailynews.com.au.

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