health

“It’s not really about you”: I’m a nurse on the frontline. And I just want you to know this.

I just want you to know.

I just want you to know what it feels like to start work at 11:30pm.

I want you to know what it feels like to tell your kids you won’t be there in the night for a cuddle when they wake up.

I want you to know what it feels like when you’re so tired your eyes feel like they’re bleeding.

I want you know what it feels like to miss Christmas/birthdays/celebrations/events/Sunday mornings.

I want you to know what it feels like to pay for your own children to be cared for, while you care for others.

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I want you to know what it feels like to come home traumatised, and covered in bodily fluids you never knew existed. 

I want you to know what it feels like when your shoes get vomited and/or shat on.

I want you to know what it feels like when smells get stuck up your nose, and in your uniform.

I want you to know what it feels like to be anxiety-ridden about going to work, and to have shift-work induced insomnia. 

I want you know what it feels like to not be able to go to the toilet for a whole shift, to miss your meal breaks, to work unpaid overtime most shifts.

I want you to know what it feels like to stay up all night to look after YOU, and YOUR people. 

I want you to know what it’s like to be so tired you can barely walk, yet be responsible for many lives. 

I want you to know how it feels when I’m running on empty and have nothing to give, but legally I’m responsible for your life. 

I want you to know that my work will be scrutinised down to the finest of detail and I will be hung out to dry if I f**k up. 

Image: Kirsty Mackenzie Photography.

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Yet.

We watch over you with torches to see your chest rise and fall to make sure you’re breathing. 

We look under your sheets to make sure you’re not bleeding out.

We count your pulse and take your blood pressure. 

CONTINUOUSLY. 

24/7. 

This s**t does not go on smoko! 

Caregiving does not take a break.

We dress your wounds with a level of exacting precision you probably cannot comprehend.

We see things, we hear noises, we smell and touch things, that we will carry with us forever.

We will spend so much time processing, reflecting, and trying to forget.

We watch and count every single ml that goes into your body, and we fastidiously measure every single thing that comes out. 

We have to examine your output to see what might be going on inside of you. 

We are holding back our own vomit, as we clear away yours.

We shower/sponge/bed/bath/periwash/cleanse you, and make your beds, every single day, even when we don’t want to, even when we’re tired.

We still smile at you when you’re rude to us. 

We still use manners when you don’t say please or thank you.

We advocate for you. We argue for you. We take hits for you. 

We are pillars of strength when you need us, we cry FOR you, WITH you, AND when we get home.

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We do every single thing in our power for your best outcome. 

Every single thing.

We don’t do this for fun. We do this because it’s our job. 

Somewhere along the line, we said yes to working in healthcare. 

Somewhere along the line, we worked full time, unpaid, to learn this craft. 

We studied hard, and paid to go to university. 

We ALL need us to do this job. We ALL need us.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. 

Road accidents don’t discriminate. 

Type 1 diabetes doesn’t discriminate. 

Auto-immune disorders don’t discriminate. 

The need for urgent and emergency medical care does not discriminate.

Emergency surgery is often required by those who are supremely healthy, just as it is those who made different lifestyle choices. 

People who drink green juice and do yoga still get cancer.

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We still provide care. Without thanks. Without expectation. Without judgement.

I would think that if your child, your infant, you yourself or your mum ended up in hospital and needed treatment, you would want your care providers to give them the best care. You would want the best for them.

That would include preventing disease transmission, and hospital acquired infection. 

You would want those risks minimised at all costs.

If there was a vaccine that had been shown to reduce disease transition of a highly contagious, potentially deadly virus, you would want your doctors/nurses/healthcare works to have that vaccine. 

Because you would want the best fighting chance for yourself or for your people. 

So if it’s good enough for us, then why is it not good enough for you?

Please also consider that the medical system, our hospitals, ALL healthcare needs to return to ‘normal’ so we can deal with all of your needs. 

The ICU beds that are needed for post-operative patients (oncology procedures/organ transplants/trauma), get blocked for long periods. 

All Category 2 and Category 3 surgery gets cancelled (that’s ANYTHING that not an immediate threat to life - i.e., only road accidents and accidental trauma get operated on). 

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You will have to wait for your cancer to be removed, you will have to wait for your hip/knee to be fixed, your organ replacement. 

YOU will have to wait. 

YOUR PEOPLE will have to wait.

Have you even considered that potentially even more than hospitality, hospitals need to return to normal? 

Do you know how s**t it is, as a nurse, when none of your patients can have any visitors and family around? 

I work in gynae-oncology and gynaecology. 

The women I work with are all dealing with loss. 

Loss of a baby they were supposed to bring home, loss of their breasts, loss of their ovaries, their uterus, their lives as they know it. 

A s**t diagnosis, with a poor prognosis. 

No visitors. No family. No hand to hold.

Unless they’re dying imminently (some of them are) which, in some cases may be granted exemption. 

Even still, that’s very limited.

People are dying alone. 

Family don’t get to say goodbye.

No hands - no holding. 

Aren’t we supposed to be walking each other home? 

Imagine that. 

Crying alone.

Birthing alone.

Dying alone. 

Aren’t we supposed to be walking each other home? 

Every single patient has a story. 

Every single one is a warrior, and they need their people. 

As nurses, we need them to have their people. It’s a key indicator for healing, and positive health outcomes.

I see irate husbands who can’t hold their wives, I see women who cannot see their children, I see everyone, alone.

I thought we were supposed to be walking each other home?

Have you considered that instead of starting an online petition to circulate/sign, you could actually do a thing that will bring us closer to hospitals opening back up? 

Instead of spreading rage and sprouting injustice, instead of pretending to stand up for your sisters for the sake of your appearance, you could actually stand up for them.

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Instead, you bypass and dismiss them. 

Have you considered actually doing a thing that will actually help them, and bring us ALL closer to this ‘freedom’ you’re so insistent that you’ve lost?

Have you considered that your freedom is not actually under attack because you’ve been requested to social distance and/or wear a mask?

Have you considered that freedom is actually far greater than that?

Your freedom is actually the fact that you’ve been asked, and you’ve decided not to. That, right there, is your freedom. 

What a way to use it. 

Have you considered that it’s actually an honour to do something (something as small as wear a mask) for those who are less health fortunate than you? 

That it’s actually something that you could do with pride, to stand as one, and honour your fellow humans?

Have you thought that through? 

Potentially not. 

That’s your privilege, once again.

I thought we were supposed to be walking each other home?

Because it’s not your child who has cancer and is immunocompromised.

You don’t consider how confronting it is for the mums who do have sick kids. 

Because your ‘immune system is so strong’ and you ‘trust your body,’ you’ll survive COVID-19 or the flu. 

But your friend’s mum, with all sorts of health issues, might not. 

Or your cousin's baby, with undiagnosed respiratory illnesses, requiring frequent and unexplained ventilation, might not. 

Your friends' businesses that are closing, your people who are out of work, every single marginalised person is struggling beyond what you can imagine right now. Again, your privilege is showing. 

Aren’t we supposed to be walking each other home? 

See, 

It’s not really about you. 

It never has been. 

The fact that you keep making it about you, speaks volumes. 

You’ve been asked to do something for someone else, and you’re choosing to decline that opportunity. 

That says a lot about you, your inability to see the bigger picture, your nature which is sorely lacking in compassion, and absence of empathy. 

We are supposed to be walking each other home.

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Sure, I would prefer to not get the vaccine. 

We all would. 

However, if you want safe and available hospital care, businesses to open back up, and immunocompromised people in the community to be given a chance, then maybe it’s a small hit you can take for the team.

We’re all just walking each other home.

If you so fiercely want all of these things that you so aggressively advocate for, then why wouldn’t you take the next practical step forward -  take a small hit to say, ‘Yep. I see you.’

The disruption to an effective, free, and accessible medical movement is making me sick. 

The disrespect to doctors, nurses, medical staff, and healthcare professionals is making me sick. 

Your blatant disregard for us, and the incredible work we do ‘all in a days work,’ is making me sick. 

Yet, STILL, when you are sick, we will care for you. 

Without judgement.

Without expectation.

Without thanks.

We’re all just walking each other home.

At the heart of this, we have dedicated our careers, our life’s work, to looking after yours.

Is that not the definition of human spirit? 

Here, let me walk you home. 

Feature Image: Kirsty Mackenzie Photography.

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