Lizzie learns to… Fly high

Written Lizzie Macaulay

I’m afraid of heights.

Irrationally so.

I don’t even like to stand on chairs.

I don’t know exactly what I think is going to go wrong, but my brain inevitably tells me something is going to happen.

(It hasn’t so far, in 36 trips around the sun, for those keeping score)

So when I discovered my assignment for this month was meeting and helping the region’s newest charity owner, Mark McMurtrie, with his Community Flights project, I have to admit I had a tiny wobble.

Mark is a highly experienced pilot who also happens to be River Heads’ friendly pharmacist.

Community Flights is a passion project that Mark’s been bringing together for a while now, with his intention to ‘close the gap’ to healthcare access.

It’s admirable, to say the least.

Mark will be flying deserving eligible patients across South-East Queensland to and from specialist appointments in his very own Piper Arrow aircraft.

As a former travel agent, I can clearly remember the financial burden that chronic and acute illnesses tended to create.

With less access to specialists in regional areas, patients were (and still are) often required to make the journey to major centres for their appointments… or face a lengthy wait.

A wait that had the potential to impact their health outcomes.

I’d booked many a flight to Brisbane for medical appointments over that period, and I always wished there was more I could do to minimise the cost.

Enter: Mark.

Community Flights is blossoming at a frankly enjoyable rate, and now it was my turn to get a front-row seat into what it will be like to travel as a patient.

I’ll admit, I was nervous.

Generally speaking, I’m completely OK with take-offs. It’s the plummeting back to Earth landing that gets me every time.

We jumped in and I even got to pop on those cool comms headsets with the mic like you see on the telly.

Mark is so at ease in this space, it helped as a prod to my nervous system to ‘chill out’.

The craft sprang to life, Mark muttered some unintelligible pilot code into the ether, and we were on our way.

As the logical part of my brain predicted, the take-off was smooth and uneventful. Soaring over the Bay is always such a privilege.

We could see beautiful K’gari sprawling out before us as the sun shone down on it.

I started to settle in and let gratitude take the place of uncertainty.

We may or may not have zoomed by my house for a snoop and kept an eye out for whatever fabulous creatures happened to be in the ocean that day.

As we flew, I thought about how brilliant this service is going to be for so many. A door-to-door experience that means better health outcomes for the people who need it most.

I pictured each one chatting with Mark, relaxed, happy, able to enjoy the journey, despite any possible looming health challenges.

The plane is surprisingly roomy on the inside, and insanely comfortable.

Patients are going to get more than they bargained for.

Mark filled me in on the different ways he used his plane before it was in-service for the charity.

Imagine being able to get wherever you liked in the state, or even the country whenever you fancied it.

I’ve often wanted a teleportation device for exactly this purpose – being able to fly yourself anywhere must be the next best thing!

Before I knew it, it was time for our descent.

Ordinarily this is the part of any flight that has me checking out hard – I tend to just grip onto things fairly tight and hope for the best.

This flight was different, though.

With his affable chat and completely relaxed demeanour, Mark helped me override a bunch of irrational guff that would usually be going on in my brain.

And before I knew it, the plane’s tyres had reacquainted themselves with the tarmac.

Happily back on solid ground, I played back everything we’d seen and talked about, and I couldn’t wait to spread the word about what this fantastic charity would be capable of.

Literally life-changing for some and life-saving for others.