The 4 am alarm comes too quickly. Fall out of bed and shrug sleep-leaden limbs into a crisp clean flight-suit. Brush teeth; wash face; feed the dogs.
The flight bag stands ready, prepared the evening before with years of learned hacks and help-outs-in-a-tight-corner. Drive into the not-yet morning of the not-yet-summer darkness, towards the hanger, into a day which can hold anything: nursing the travel-coffee as it cheer-leads motivation into each cell. The neon light of the crew-room never flatters the washed-out night-shift faces handing over the baton. Summary of stock used, replenished items, levels of on-board oxygen cylinders, battery-charge on the defibrillator and ventilator. Tones hushed, the transition of arriving and departing; of beginning and ending. The merging and separation of energies in the helicopter emergency medicine world: the coffee machine grinding out the whirring soundtrack to the choreographed interactions.
A hint of light filters through the hangar doors. The temperature dips as the crew walks out to do their pre-flight checks. It is wind-still: Johannesburg holds her breath for the dramatic moment in which the sun will illuminate the sooty city skyline. ROCKET 1 is waiting in the dusky cold with her blade-ties and pitot-covers: subjugated, restrained, or merely asleep? The pilot knows her shapes and curves and buttons so well. His systematic pre-flight inspection ensures the batteries are charged, there is sufficient fuel, the warning lights are working: his eyes know immediately if something mechanical is even slightly out of place. The cowlings are locked down, no hydraulic pipes are loose, the oil levels are correct, and the engines are sound. The flight doctor and paramedic run diagnostics on the ventilator, print a test-strip on the defibrillator, re-check oxygen cylinders and establish the charge status of all the gadgets: a quiet synergism of camaraderie and concentration ensuring the cabin is clean and stocked and perfectly ready.
Heading back indoors to the third cup of coffee, the sun bursts free from the constraints of night. A new day begins, and we are ready. Ready for any emergency: trauma or medical. We are ready to transfer you or your loved one from a rural hospital to a facility with more specialists and expertise. In less than 10 minutes, we can be airborne to help extract you if you are entrapped in a motor vehicle after a collision, to fly your neighbours child who nearly drowned in an un-netted pool, to fetch your sister who was kicked by her horse, to give life-saving medicine to your grandfather who is having a heart attack on his farm outside Bela Bela. For the next 12 hours, this crew will be ready and waiting. Ready and waiting to help save and or change a life.