Anaesthetist a hit with kids

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Tamahere’s Hugh Douglas decided on his medical specialty when he realised he liked being at the sharp end of things, when patients are in a highly critical condition and rapid decisions and treatment are required.

Hugh Douglas with a sick child

“I realised I didn’t want to wait around months for drugs to work. I liked to be in situations of rapid change,” he says in a Waikato DHB profile. “As an anaesthetist, the work is highly variable; patients can come in not only with trauma but who are also very sick with an co-existing disease so you are constantly managing IV and airway access and resuscitating.”

Douglas is Head of Paediatric Anaesthetics at Waikato Hospital. A Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, he is also an examiner for the Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.

“It’s hard work but really satisfying and stimulating. I enjoy teaching.”

It’s easy to see how Douglas ended up in paediatrics. He is funny and chatty, his enthusiasm for his work unmistakable.

“The good thing about Waikato is the teamwork, the nursing staff and technicians are amazing,” he says.

“When you are working with, say, sick newborns, it’s absolutely a team effort and my colleagues are brilliant.”

The most high-profile case he has been involved in to date, and one that attracted international media attention, was in 2004 when he was part of the seven-strong surgical team attempting to separate conjoined girl twins, joined at the lower back and pelvis. Leading Waikato Hospital paediatric surgeon Dr Askar Kukkady and the large, multi-disciplinary team from both within and outside of Waikato planned the operation in secret for months, adhering strictly to the wishes of the twins’ parents that the case be kept out of the media spotlight.

“There had been months of meticulous planning and rehearsal and we had developed a great rapport with the parents but then of course eventually there was a leak to the media,” Douglas says.

Once the story was out, local and international reporters were desperate for details so a press conference was held when the marathon 22-hour operation was finally over. Fortunately the surgery, the first of its kind in Australasia, went like clockwork.

“It couldn’t have gone better, everyone did a stunning job,” Douglas says.

Douglas and wife Elizabeth, a physiotherapist, have done their fair share of moving during his medical career, including two years in Rotorua followed by the traditional OE to the UK where Douglas worked in London and Norfolk. When they returned in 1994 and he took a job at Waikato Hospital as an anaesthetic registrar, there was a slight problem. Elizabeth refused to live in Hamilton.

“Like most people, she had seen it as we’d driven through, and the bypass shows the worst bits of the city,” Douglas says.

“But once she saw the lake and the other things Hamilton had to offer she did a 180 degree turn, she’s very happy here now.”

But in 1997 they left again, this time to Adelaide where Douglas worked at the Royal Adelaide Women’s and Children’s hospital before gaining a coveted one-year fellowship to the largest children’s hospital in Australasia, Westmead children’s hospital in Sydney.

“Working in Sydney was great, we lived in the housing complex attached to the hospital and there were lots of young families so we had a great time,” he says.

“And yes, there were lots of job offers. You’d get one or two glossy colour brochures every day sometimes, advertising jobs in places like the Gold Coast where they say they’ll give you this, that and the other thing. But I’d always loved Hamilton and I wanted to come back.”

They returned in 2001 and both have been working in their respective fields at Waikato Hospital ever since. The family lives at Tamahere on just over a hectare, “enough room to spread out”, and a 20-minute bike ride to work. Hugh is a keen cyclist and runner.

“It’s so easy to get around here, we’re close to Pirongia and Maungatautari, Lake Taupo and the sea is close in both directions,” he says. “I couldn’t stand battling traffic every day and after living in Auckland while I was at med school I couldn’t bear to go back.”

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