As a nurse, in the remote town of Broome, I didn't think I would be so affected by COVID but I was wrong. Meeting after meeting at work we were all trying to figure out how Broome Hospital and the Kimberley would cope if the coronavirus spread in a region that is 40% Indigenous and home to many remote communities. It would be disastrous. How would we prepare for what seemed the inevitable?
The worst case scenarios were put to us. Broome would become the COVID hospital for the Kimberley. The Kimberley borders were shut immediately, meaning I had no idea when I could see my family again. I just knew I had to step up and lead as I am a senior critical care nurse and my skills were needed here. We don't have an Intensive Care Unit, the closest is Perth 2500km away, a minimum 6 hour journey for patients on a Royal Flying Doctor flight. When my boss walked into the High Dependancy Unit I manage in Broome and told me that I would be in charge of the makeshift ICU, I was overwhelmed at the thought. I had been through SARS at Royal Perth Hospital and I just knew how sick these patients were and after watching a video from an Italian ICU I was worried. Thankfully it never came to that. The preparation, support and effort from WA Health through to frontline staff meant that if it came to, we could do it. I was ready for what felt like war.
I spent hours learning how the virus effects our patients and how to ventilate them. We had to learn coronavirus protocols, unlearn how we did things and modify how we would resuscitate someone who may have the virus. It wasn't long before all this was real and in practice. I came home after a 12 hour day and half of that was spent assisting our anaesthetist as we waited 6 hours in theatre with our ventilated patient for the Royal Flying Doctors to arrive. As that plane left we prayed that no accidents would occur in the Kimberley that night. Once a plane has a query or positive COVID patient in it, it has to be quarantined for 48 hours before it can fly again. Our PPE was treated like gold. It really was an unsettling time for everyone, amplified by being in a small town, cut off by the world yet facing such enormous pressure to become the COVID hospital for the region. The unknown can be a scary place to be, but I got through it and still do by appreciating all the silver linings that have come during this time.
It's always important to remember the good things that have come from this experience. This is my list and I encourage you to make yours because it certainly helped me during the trying times.
- My colleagues. First and foremost, the doctors and nurses I work with every day. We all work hard to upskill all staff, to keep each other safe and be there for each other. To our cleaners, kitchen staff and orderlies who work equally as hard but don't always get the recognition they deserve.
- WA Health. Thankyou for all the help and assistance. Especially the COVID rapid swab cartridges meaning we get a result in 45 minutes as opposed to sending swabs to Perth and waiting 3 days. This has been a game changer to our hospital!
- My job. Actually, it's not a job, it's my passion. In 20 years as a nurse, I have never dreaded a day to go to work. I love what I do. I am grateful to help others and be fortunate to still have a job.
- Broome. Through all of this I am grateful to be here. There are few more beautiful places in Australia yet most Australians have never travelled here! And it's the dry season!! Balmy 30 degree days, Cable Beach and camping places not too far from here. I will be sad to leave but the time has come to leave soon....
- My home. Some of my colleagues left their homes temporarily to ensure they didn't bring the virus to their families. I am thankful to be on my own so I don't have to worry about making someone sick or someone making me sick during this time. We have had no cases in the Kimberley since April 9!
- Meditation & yoga. If you haven't experienced the stillness and bliss meditation brings I highly recommend you download the free Insight Timer app. There are guided meditations or just music you can listen too. If you can't sleep put a sleep music track on - I guarantee you'll be out in less than 5 minutes! It helps me fall asleep after night shifts. Meditation and yoga keep me grounded. Make it a routine part of your day, in a special place and you will feel gratitude for all that you have even more. It's important to quieten your mind and let go of all the stress of the day.
- Books. I don't watch a lot of TV and I don't have social media. I prefer to read and learn from books. Instead of ventilation and ICU books I am now reading 'The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World' by the Dalai Lama.
- My family and friends. I am blessed to have wonderful family and friends who always check in on me. I get to finally go to Perth very soon to see them all!
- The gift of teaching. Sharing your knowledge with others is empowering. Teach what you know. You always learn from each other. I am blessed to have a clinical and teaching role at the hospital.
- Time. Time in isolation has a way of really showing you what you want and letting go of what no longer serves you. Although I am leaving Broome, this doesn't mean my work won't continue here. Plans are in place for the Project to expand where it started. But Sydney always has and always will be my home. It's not about geography but where you feel at home. Perth grounds me but Sydney makes me fly. Don't fight what you know is meant for you!
- The Indigenous community who have taught me so much. I can't even put into words how lucky I am to work with the kids, schools and communities and all the staff who want to see them reach their full potential.
If you are struggling, remember you are never alone. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. But it's so important to seek help if you feel like it's just too much! Sometimes a kind ear is the first step to getting through tough times. Lifeline and Beyond Blue can help if you can't or don't want to see someone in person. Remember seeking help is not a sign of weakness, rather it takes great strength to reach out. You've got this!
Lifeline 131 114 (phone support)
Beyond Blue 1800 512 348 (online and phone support).
With gratitude, love and light,