Judy Dittmer's working life has been an unusual mix — a combination of professional fishing and nursing.
A resident of Windy Harbour on Western Australia's south coast, the 69-year-old has put away her thermometer but still holds professional fishing licences.
During her nursing career, whether here or in Vietnam, Ms Dittmer has needed to be resourceful, taking responsibility and making decisions in a way that might not be possible in nursing today.
She graduated from Royal Perth Hospital in 1966 and settled on surgical nursing as her preferred specialty.
It was during a stint at St Andrew's Private Hospital in Brisbane, that a friend informed her that she was going to Vietnam.
Ms Dittmer did not hesitate to put her hand up to go as well.
She said the six months she spent nursing in Bien Hoa in 1971 changed her forever.
War wounds and little children
Ms Dittmer said what many people do not realise is that the Australian Government was obliged at the time, under the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), to send civilian teams to war-ravaged Vietnam.
Skilled tradespeople and medical teams were the most often sent.
The destination for the two nurses, Bien Hoa, is about 23 kilometres north of what was then Saigon.
Ms Dittmer was assigned to the civilian hospital to work alongside local doctors, nurses and technicians, with patients mostly civilian plus a few military cases.
At the age of 24, she found herself given a great deal of responsibility.
"A lot of the theatre [cases were] from people working in the field who stood on a mine or were shot. There were a lot of shrapnel wounds," she said.
"Over there, we used to do minor surgery, make decisions and diagnose.
"I specialised in neurosurgery; I could just about have done a craniotomy myself."
On one occasion, an orthopaedic surgeon was faced with a subdural haemorrhage — or bleeding into the brain.
Ms Dittmer said the surgeon asked her advice on where he should drill the burr holes, holes in the skull to relieve the pressure.
"You'd never be allowed to do anything like that nowadays," she recounted.
In Vietnam, the nurses sutured wounds and lanced abscesses.
"All the little kids had heaps of abscesses on their heads," Ms Dittmer said, adding that the war had caused a scarcity of food and the means to produce it.
"You'd go past a pile of rubbish and there'd be a heap of kids sitting on it eating," she said.
Ultimate in nursing
Bien Hoa was the site of a large American air force base and another large US base was not far away at Long Binh.
There were six Aussie nurses in total, all who were guaranteed to be well looked after in the US mess.
The young women had fun but Ms Dittmer drew the line at casual flings.
"I had strict rules about that, particularly with the Americans, because all of them had a wife at home that 'didn't understand them'," she said.
"I flew a few choppers and did a few things that others didn't do. I did have a couple of romances and one was [with] a chopper instructor."
When her contract ended, Ms Dittmer returned home.
"When I got back to Australia, I felt almost like I wanted to turn around and jump on the next plane and go back again," she said.
"For me, it was the ultimate in nursing because you were operating on people who had no money, no food.
"One of the things that stays with me is how the children accepted their situation.
"We would have a waiting room full of people, some on stretchers on the floor and some on benches.
"There would be a child with an obviously broken arm. There wasn't even a whimper from that child. It would sit and wait until its turn.
"Some of those children would be sitting there for hours."
Her mother, who lived in Windy Harbour, was ill and Ms Dittmer travelled to WA to be with her. The quiet isolation of the hamlet suited her perfectly.
At the time, Northcliffe boasted a large timber mill with 90 workers and four bush crews as well.
Ms Dittmer was asked to backfill at the town's nursing post when, she said, "people went mad or left" and eventually took on the job full-time.
Severe accidents and deaths happen in mill towns.
"I handled it much better than I would have. After Vietnam, I don't think anything is confronting anymore," she said.
Once again, she took on responsibility beyond what might be possible today.
"Going to an accident, I used to grab the bag and go with the ambulance because there was no one else," she said.
"Remote nurses were resourceful, if not they didn't last. You have to take the responsibility, whether you want it or not."
Ms Dittmer juggled nursing with professional fishing until four years ago.
She describes today's nursing as: "paperwork, computers, people sitting in offices without hands-on experience. I had to give it away".
She believes that what made her a good "hands-on" nurse was her ability to sense when something was not right.
"It's instinct, it's experience. The breathing is not right or their story is not right. You learn to read people," she said.