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Rural patients travel for health care

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A country doctor comes face to face with the devastating realities of needing specialist care in a distant city

Today, I entered the world of the chronically ill. I am forced to grapple with the shattering diagnosis of a life-threatening autoimmune disease. My medical career and life as I have known it are shelved for the foreseeable future. Hopes and dreams are buried under the rubble of severe illness. Suddenly, my husband is my carer, and his career hangs in the balance too. Roles within the family radically change in a moment, and nothing looks familiar. The devastation does not stop there, though. Being casually or self-employed means income ceases immediately for both of us. We have entered the unchartered waters of financial insecurity.

This is enough to swallow for one day. Tomorrow, I start the arduous task of planning and packing for the more than 1100 km round trip for treatment. Being sick, this is the last thing I feel like doing. The long drives are torture to stiff and painful joints, and severely challenge my ability to shut out the nausea. Why am I sentenced to travel for essential health care? I am guilty, like so many other Australians, of living in a regional area. This is the first of monthly journeys that are potentially a life sentence.

Initially, accommodation is provided by the hospital, charged at the state’s Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) rebate rate, making it affordable.…