‘The things I’ve seen ... I can’t put into words’
AS the ambulance tore down the M1, lights and sirens screaming, Jaye Newton worked on the body in the back.
Quietly, calmly, yet fiercely determined, he fought to keep the light of life alive in the male patient.
With every second critical, Jaye didn't think about the scene he had just witnessed.
Called to Helensvale McDonald's on a sunny, September morning in 2015, Jaye immediately assessed the scene. His priority was to stabilise this patient - a patient whose wife, Karina Lock, now lay dead on the ground beside him.
First the patient had killed this mother of four, the mother of his children, then he had turned the gun on himself with a crowd of customers, including kids, witnessing the horror unfold.
And now Jaye's job was to save the shooter, who was the victim's estranged husband.
There was zero time to debate the moral and ethical ramifications … and even if there was, it would not matter. At the heart of Jaye's job, at the heart of his faith, lies his core philosophy: Every life is a life.
"It's not my job to judge, it's my job to help," he says.
"My job is to give every patient one more chance at life. I'm their last chance for a chance. A chance to go on living a good life or a chance to turn their life around.
"It's up to them what they do, but without that last chance there is no chance."
In fact, hope and faith are the fuel that give Jaye the mental energy to face the trauma of life and death, day in and day out.
As one of just 14 in the Queensland Ambulance Service's specialist High Acuity Response Unit, Jaye is considered arguably one of the most technically efficient paramedics in the world.
The expert team of frontline, tertiary trained critical care workers effectively provides a mobile emergency department sent to shootings, stabbings, drownings and extreme trauma across southeast Queensland, with a team of six based on the Gold Coast and a team of eight in Brisbane.
"The things I've seen … I can't put it into words and you wouldn't want me to," says the father of three.
"There are deep, dark corners to this city that no one would dream of. Drugs, mental health issues, domestic violence … I couldn't even imagine it if I hadn't seen it .
"That job at Helensvale McDonald's, I think that was the last of my blinkers gone. My eyes just opened to the problems that we have, especially domestic violence. It took a long time for me to process that.
"My family and I used to live down the road from there, in Pacific Pines. It was just too close to home. It was the collision of two worlds - the Coast we know, families and theme parks; and the Coast that I've seen, violence and death.
"But you know, in the moment, when you're dealing with it, when I was working on the male patient in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, all that thinking is in the future. You have one job and that's to save a life.
"Whether that life is worth saving, that's for someone else to answer. For me, it always is and always will be. Even if for nothing else than the chance to change, to atone.
"In that case, the patient lost that chance. We got him to hospital but he later died. But I know we did everything we could to save him. Every life is a life."
Still, a constant diet of death and trauma is far beyond the "bad day at the office'' the rest of us might experience.
Jaye acknowledges that, even with the QAS doing its utmost to provide support and respite for its crews, it can become too much for some.
Yet after 18 years he's still here, specialising in the most extreme cases.
Jaye says it all comes back to faith and hope. "Every case, you have the hope that you'll save a life - and with this unit, we really have very good outcomes," he says.
"There are so many jobs that I go to now that, five years ago, you were dead, no chance. Now, chances are you'll live.
"But I also just have hope in humanity. I've seen some of the worst cases of mental illness, of mental distress, of drug abuse, and I've seen those people survive and seek help and recover.
"I was born into a Christian family and my faith is very real and strong. So I really do have the faith that whatever I'm going to, whatever I see, whatever I do … it's all working out according to a plan.
"Not my plan, certainly.
"Probably one of the scariest aspects of this job is just how life can turn so instantly. One bad decision, one moment of inattention and your whole world is changed forever, or over completely. When you see how close we are to the edge every day, it can tempt you to believe in chaos.
"My faith keeps me steady."
That's not to say that what Jaye has seen does not affect how he acts.
Just ask his children.
"Yeah, I guess I am a bit of a helicopter parent," he laughs.
"I don't let my children play in the front yard and we don't have a pool … yet.
"I'm waiting until they're all strong swimmers. And motorcycles? That is never going to happen.
"I know from my job that you can never control all of the risks in life, but you can reduce them."
While every day brings fresh trauma, from violent crime to medical emergencies, Jaye says he walks a fine line between suppressing his emotions and retaining his humanity.
He says the worst jobs are those involving children, an already awful aspect of his work which only became harder after becoming a father.
"Drownings are the job we all dread. It doesn't get more tragic. An innocent child gone and a family whose world was just shattered. There was no violence, no 'guilty' party, just absolute desperation.
"Dealing with the family is just gut-wrenching. In some aspects, we have to suppress our emotions because we can't be feeling all of the feelings and still deal with a crisis. Plus, there is so much we see, you just can't unpack it all.
"But you have to keep your humanity too. Yes, I'm there as a member of the QAS because a child has drowned. But I need to be there as a father too. I need to let that family feel my empathy and heartbreak, they need to know that we care. At that stage, that really is all we can do."
Jaye says becoming a paramedic was more of a calling than a career choice.
In fact, it wasn't even his first career. Before joining the QAS he was a civil engineer for five years, working for the main roads department.
But he says he kept being called to serve others, first as a surf lifesaver and then eventually as a paramedic.
"I think one of the most formative experiences as a teen was when my best friend, Robbie Gatenby, died," says Jaye, of the 15-year-old teen who drowned after being struck on the head during a boat collision in pounding surf at the Australian titles at Kurrawa on March 31, 1996.
"We were both members at Kurrawa Surf Life Saving Club and I was on the beach that day when he disappeared. I just … I just wanted to help so much and you can't.
"I studied civil engineering and thought I could just keep doing lifesaving and I was a volunteer in the rescue helicopter as well, but it just wasn't enough. I always felt the need to do more.
"I'm still active in lifesaving. In fact, I'm actually vice chair of Life Saving Chaplaincy Australia. Service to the community is just part of who I am, I guess."
Despite the toll that trauma takes, Jaye says he still believes in the goodness of people - well, most of them.
He says he has witnessed kindness and care in the most unlikely of places, including Schoolies.
"As paramedics, we're on the frontline. Not in my role as much, I'm more end-of-the-line. But I hear the stories of what we cop and it can be quite frightening. Even in my role, you just never know how a patient may react. We always have an option of high level chemical restraint on hand because it can blow up very quickly," he says.
"Quite often it's when drugs and alcohol are involved. And unfortunately, Surfers is still a hotspot for that behaviour. We get a lot of call-outs to issues that stem from drinking and violence around the clubs.
"But there has been a real cultural change around Schoolies. When I think about what it was like when I went, back in the mid-90s, it was horrific. I saw someone get stabbed with a machete. It was violent and out of control. That was my opinion of it for a long time - but I think the Gold Coast has really turned a negative into a positive now.
"The way the festival has been co-opted by the community, the level of care and support you see offered not just by volunteers but even the young kids themselves, it's really heartening.
"Yes, some kids still celebrate to excess but there's a real level of kinship amongst the kids. They're looking out and looking after each other."
It's that faith and hope in humanity that stops Jaye from being haunted by the scenes he has seen.
"It's funny," he says. "I remember a lot of the jobs I've been to, but rarely do I remember the people. I guess it's that level of detachment when I'm dealing with the trauma. It's action first, think about it later. And by that time, they're not my patient anymore.
"Still, when I drive around the Gold Coast sometimes, in the back of my mind, I'm sort of recognising places and remembering jobs. There are certain intersections that I drive through very carefully.
"I remember the spots where trauma happened but some, even a lot, had a good ending. It's the opposite of the Sixth Sense … I don't see dead people, I see last chances."