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"The breaking point is now." I'm a nurse. This is exactly what it's like right now.

This year has been a wild ride of screening, swabbing and vaccinating. I’ve had my PPE stick to me while I sweat. I’ve felt like passing out while I’ve swabbed babies who are screaming their lungs out and toddlers who’ve got more prowess than Houdini. 

People have rolled up for vaccinations without appointments, when they were necessary at our hub, telling us to "f**k off" because we can’t make appointments for them. I’ve seen so many people rolling their eyes and muttering under their breath that it’s all a scam, “I only did it so I could keep my job”. 

When we say thank you for doing it to keep us safe, they slump further down into their seats and grind their teeth because they firmly believe that what they do doesn’t affect others. It’s been a ride. 

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We’re slipping into dangerous territory now. Our Sisters in America and the UK have screamed that their healthcare system is overworked - they are rightfully terrified.

Were we at a breaking point, this year, when we couldn’t staff wards? When people called in sick because they were being overworked? Were we at breaking point when ambulances had to ramp for hours outside emergency departments? 

Yes, we carried on though and we always do because the breaking point is now, yet if we keep going and say “they’ll be alright”, it will continue to be a whisper away. 

Our Florence Nightingale, traipsing around during the Crimean War, in 1854, found that soldiers were receiving poor care due to overworked staff who had to face stone-faced officials. She found a short supply of medicines and neglected hygiene. 

What would Florence think now, in this crisis the whole world is facing?

We have overworked staff, so much so that people are resigning, because the pressure of bedside nursing has become rapidly unsustainable to a nurse's mental and physical health. Nursing staff face officials, management, who will move mountains to make sure wards are kept open and beds are filled, even if there aren’t enough staff to nurse the patients. 

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They will swing back and forth on hygiene, what needs to be closed and quarantined after a COVID case, based on financial figures, not the health of staff. 

In the wider community, Florence would find a short supply of vaccinations, a short supply of testing, long lines for official tests, long waits for results. Florence would find people who still refuse to wear masks or practise hygiene, she would find masks balancing just under noses, slipping under chins, because people have given up, or never committed in the first place. 

Nothing has changed, dear Florence. I can imagine you now, at the helm, standing up for our burnt out nurses and justifying structural changes and expenditures with data visualisation. I hope, much like you did in Crimea, you’d be championing the healthcare worker and refusing to back down from dangerous suggestions by those with power.

Would you deplore the lack of urgency to procure home testing kits and make them free? Would you seek quantitative data from the front lines, finding cause and forecasting a dim future? Because it feels like nothing is getting better, our piles of PPE ballooning out of yellow bins say it’s becoming far worse. 

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In Australia we have bushfire season, we’re on the precipice of it now. We unify when the flames are coddling our snap dry bushland. We unify when the smoke is smothering our cities, turning the sky orange and grey. There is a sense of immeasurable grief when we see koalas being bottle fed by wary CFA firefighters, the ground around them blackened with smokey tendrils rising, little ghosts from the bush turned nature’s graveyard. 

At the moment the grief and emergency response is in niche pockets of the community. The sunshine falls over our beaches and summer holidays roll on, it’s hard to find sustained interest or care. There seems to be some flippant decisions being made, when it comes to determining parameters for our health and wellbeing.

Florence, we are burning now and we are not unified. There aren’t enough supplies that can come quickly enough, the lines are too long, the numbers are scaling up, up, up, swirling into the sky. There are people letting the fire run free and the nurses, the healthcare system? We stopped coping long ago. 

I cannot speak for Florence, I can quote her though, over a century has passed since she was with us but little has changed: “What cruel mistakes are sometimes made by benevolent men and women in matters of business about which they know nothing and think they know a great deal.”

Feature Image: Instagram; @nurse.merowyn.

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