health

"I bring this home, my husband dies." 4 Aussie healthcare workers on their new reality.

Right now, our healthcare workers are readying themselves to go to war for us.

They’re already in the trenches preparing and treating Australia’s ever growing cases of coronavirus.

We’ve had 13 people die from the virus in Australia, with more than 2,800 infected.

WATCH: This American nurse has described her workplace as a “warzone.” Post continues after video. 

Video by Twitter

Hospitals are preparing specialised respiratory zones, and doctors and nurses are pulling enormous days – in uncomfortable and claustrophobic protective gear – as they test hundreds of suspected cases a day.

They’re running out of supplies.

They’re run off their feet.

They’re scared too.

They fear taking the virus back to their families; they fear for their colleagues, and they fear for Australia and the decisions they may have to make in coming weeks. In Italy, medical professionals have had to make the heartbreaking decision to not intubate anyone over 60.

Here is the reality of life right now for four Australian medical professionals.

Dr Marita Long, GP.

“It’s just been really tough,” Dr Long told The Quicky through tears.

“I’m in a fortunate position, I have family. I have a house, I have land, I grow my own veggies. I am really lucky. I have a steady income.

“The hardest thing for us in general practice is we’re at the frontline. So we’re trying to manage instruction from the government, from the Department of Heath, from the chief medical officer… we’re trying to look after our patients as best we can with changing information.

“We’re trying to balance the responsibility of caring for people and their regular needs, as well as, now the fear of, could they have coronavirus?” said Dr Long.

LISTEN: To Dr Long on The Quicky. Post continues after podcast.

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“Then the questions start to arise: are they going to infect us? Our staff? Our families?”

“It’s a really unusual space to be in. I love my job as a GP, but for the last couple of weeks it’s been like going into a hostile environment. Like an environment where you’re fearful all the time,” she explained.

Dr Long says while the idea of tele-health – and treating patients via the phone – sounds like a good idea, in practice it’s actually tricky.

“So if you’ve got a sick child, we’re asking you to comment on their breathing. It takes us years of training to figure that stuff out. Do they have a sore throat? A temperature? All those things are just that little bit harder when you can’t eyeball the patient,” she told The Quicky.

For Dr Long, her biggest fear right now in the age of coronavirus is infecting her family.

“My husband is over 65. He’s got lung disease. I have a daughter who has moved back home and has moderate asthma and active autoimmune disease. But that sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It sounds selfish to think like that… but as a doctor, your whole training, your whole life – you put your patients first. I am not saying that I don’t want to do that, but at this point in time, my biggest fear has been going to work because we haven’t had protective gear and there’s a very high chance as a healthcare worker we will contract this virus and I bring it home, and my husband dies.”

But when Dr Long weighs up her fears about coming to work, she feels like she’s letting her colleagues down.

“How can I not go to work, but expect my colleagues to?” she asked.

“Life has changed now as we know it… and it’s really, really scary,” she added.

Amanda, nurse.

Amanda is worried.

She knows we’re nowhere near the peak of our COVID-19 crisis, and that what we’re experiencing now is nothing compared to the reality of what’s ahead.

“We’re worried about everyone. We’re worried about how we’re going to care for them. Are we going to be able to help them? Do we have enough resources?” she told The Quicky.

“The scary thing is, the more and more reports we get… the things coming out of Italy and China, just puts the fear of God in you because we’re just not ready,” she said. “We don’t have enough stuff to help people if it goes as badly as we’ve seen it go in other places.”

Concern Grows As More Than 450 Coronavirus Cases Are Confirmed In Australia
A COVID-19 Clinic at Sydney's St Vincent's hospital. Image: Mark Metcalfe/Getty.
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Amanda thinks we could have avoided the spread more, if the country followed stricter social isolation rules.

"It's extremely frustrating and heartbreaking to know that because people are being a bit careless now, it's going to potentially cost lives in the future... that's devastating," she said.

The next concern for Amanda is, do they have enough PPE for themselves?

"All we're hearing is 'shortages shortages'. It just stresses you out because I guess we feel a bit naked and exposed. We're trying to tell everyone to be prepared, not scared... but on the inside you're literally scared. Thinking is today the day I'm going to go to work and I'm going to pick it up and bring it home to my family?"

Amanda has pulled her own kids out of school this week after witnessing what happened in Italy.

"I think of children as a Trojan horse in this. Yes, there are some cases where they get sick, but they don't get nearly as unwell as the adults do. Often they don't even have symptoms. They are literally the Trojan horses... and if we're having a bunch of them at school, spreading their Trojan horse virus around and then they come home... the amount of grandparents and vulnerable people interacting with those children. It just doesn't make sense to keep them there."

Like many of her colleagues, Amanda doesn't understand why more isn't being done when we've got other countries screaming at us to do more. We've seen other countries make the same mistakes before us, and yet the warnings are "falling on deaf ears".

Amanda's message the public, is: "Don't come to hospital unless you absolutely have to. Don't leave your house unless you absolutely have to".

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 Jasmine Perry, foster carer.

Even before COVID-19, there was a shortage in foster carers.

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Now, Jasmine says the options are even more dire.

"Before the pandemic, the number of children coming into care was increasing. COVID-19 is really going to impact vulnerable families," she told The Quicky.

With financial stress, job losses, and self-isolation, Jasmine says they're worried about increases in family violence.

"We know it's a big problem in Australia. We are predicting we're only going to see another spike in notifications to child protection and subsequently children coming into care."

Jasmine says there's a lack of protective gear across all healthcare sectors, hers included, and yet they still have social workers meeting with families and going into homes.

She has this message for the public: "If people are willing and able to open their homes to children and young people, if you've ever thought about doing that, now is the time".

Kaylee Jordan, anaesthetist, Royal Melbourne Hospital. 

Kaylee understands it's tricky for the government right now, who is trying to balance what's best for health and best for the economy.

As doctors, they're only focused on what's best for health.

"Purely from a health point of view, of course more things should be shutting up," she told The Quicky.

"I would personally like to see schools closed. I would like to see gym classes where they're still allowed 10 people to close. That seems ridiculous when you can't even have that at a wedding.

"I think people need to start thinking for themselves rather than just doing things because they are still allowed to, and just use common sense," she said.

In Kaylee's hospital, they aren't getting a lot of COVID-19 positive patients yet, but the planning for an influx is well underway.

The uncertainty is already there, though. They're not scared for themselves, they're worried for their families.

What you need to know about COVID-19 today, Friday March 27.

Feature image: Getty.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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