Zap! Crackle! Pop! Electrifying times in the Top End

Dr Jasmine Banner, intern at Darwin Hospital

The wet season is well and truly in full swing in the Top End. As I write, the hammering rain on my roof is making it difficult to hear myself think! The rain is actually a blessing as it provides relief from the heavy humidity, dropping the temperature by a few vital degrees. It takes a bit of getting used to and is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love the constant heat and stormy evenings of Darwin at this time of year.

A favourite way to relax after work is sipping a cool drink on my balcony, as awe-inspiring electrical storms play out over the harbour. The lightning shows never cease to amaze me – each one like a new set of fireworks every night.

This spectacular, tropical weather also seems to bring some interesting and potentially dangerous diseases rarely seen in the rest of the country. It is hard to imagine now that just over a year ago I had not heard of Melioidosis, caused by a gram negative bacterium Burkholderia Pseudomallei, and seen endemically in many patients during the wet season.

It is most often found in water and soil (hence it’s alternative name up here, Nightcliff Gardener’s Disease – so called after a local suburb). The bacterium has even grown in the clay underneath the hospital! It most often affects immuno-compromised individuals, and presents varyingly with symptoms such as pneumonia, flu-like illness, or full blown sepsis.

Affected patients will often stay in hospital for months, require weeks if not months of intravenous antibiotics, and sometimes need more drastic management such as surgery for abscess drainage and washout, or amputation of limbs to save their life.

The Northern Territory is one of those places where the variety of medicine is incredible. As a young health professional, one encounters late presentations of various conditions, from common chronic diseases to exotic infections. Thus far I have seen multiple cases of dengue fever, crusted scabies and TB.

On a personal level, I am slowly moving up the medical food chain from intern to resident medical officer. It certainly looks like a busy year ahead, with rotations in and away from Royal Darwin Hospital already lined up. I encourage anyone interested in doing something a bit different to consider working in the NT. I cannot speak highly enough of my experiences up here, having found a balance of small town friendliness and large referral centre medicine.

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