A LAKE Macquarie grandmother who suffered a stroke on Easter weekend says her family and friends waited an hour-and-a-half for an ambulance to arrive to take her to John Hunter Hospital for treatment.
Margaret Johnston, of Garden Suburb, was spending Easter with her close friends and family at Lostock, in the Hunter Valley, when she had a stroke in the early hours of April 20.
"I was there in body, but not in mind," Mrs Johnston, 66, said. "I wasn't scared. I thought, 'If the end has come, the end has come'."
But for the people around her, it was an "anxious" and "terrifying" wait for the ambulance.
For her husband, Gary, it was "deja vu".
Their eldest son, Benjamin, had suffered a stroke after a major operation when he was 21. He had become a quadriplegic, and never regained all of his speech before he died six years ago.
"I'd been through all this before," Mr Johnston said.
"It was all revisited. It brought back too many old memories."
Mr Johnston said he heard his wife "groaning" not long after midnight.
She could not speak.
Her mouth had dropped.
He "took one look at her" and knew what was happening. He also knew that time was of the essence in getting treatment for a stroke.
There was no phone service in the area, so their good friend, Bill McDonald, drove to the next property to call Triple Zero. They said it took about an hour-and-a-half for the ambulance to arrive.
It then took the same amount of time to get Mrs Johnston to the hospital for emergency surgery.
"It was an exceptionally foggy night. Inside her head, and outside her head," Mr Johnston said.
The ambulance officers, who had come from Singleton, were "excellent".
"From Gresford, we were probably another half-an-hour up a windy road," he said. "We're not sure why they didn't come from Dungog or Maitland. It was very thick fog. If the weather had been kinder, a chopper may have come in. It was just lucky that the guy driving the ambulance had been to another job near Lostock Scout Camp just before Christmas, so he knew where he was going. Paterson River Road can be daunting when you don't.
"When we used to go to camp a bit further up there we'd tell our mates, 'When you think you're lost, you're nearly there'."
The lack of phone service, the heavy fog, and their isolated location in an emergency had highlighted some of the access problems people living in rural areas faced.
He said the attending ambulance officers had been asleep in bed at home when they got the urgent call. He questioned whether more stations in rural areas should be manned 24 hours, and whether there was enough paramedics and ambulance vehicles servicing the area.
"There is a lot of properties up that way, and those people would be in the same predicament if anything went wrong," Mr Johnston said.
Mr McDonald was in the process of organising a satellite phone for the property.
He said he had been "like a cat on a hot tin roof" waiting for the ambulance. Worrying.
"I think the ambulance stations should be manned 24/7, so that there can be a response instantly, when you need it, and you don't have to get them out of bed for them to be able to help you."
He said the paramedics had also lost touch with their base via radio and mobile phone in the "black spots" of the area during the call out.
"We're in 2019, and it just seems a bit archaic," he said.
Mrs Johnston said the paramedics did the best they could with what they had.
"We nearly collected a kangaroo on the way to hospital too," she said. "It's not like being in town where you can put on a siren and things clear the way. They were doing a mighty job. I would never criticise them. They could do with more 24-hour ambulance stations though."
NSW Ambulance did not confirm which stations in the Hunter Valley were manned 24 hours a day, but a spokesperson said the closest available crew had been dispatched from Singleton to the remote property.
"Despite the crew being on the road within six minutes of being assigned, their response time was delayed due to heavy fog creating safety concerns," she said. "The paramedics arrived on scene at 3am. We acknowledge the response time was longer than usual and apologise for any distress caused to the patient or family. The patient was transferred to John Hunter Hospital in a stable condition as soon as paramedics believed the weather conditions were safe enough to transfer the patient."
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