opinion

'We are burnt out.' The reality of working in a NSW hospital right now.

The other day at work in the hospital, a patient asked me if I’d had a good Christmas. 

"Yes, I did," I replied simply. But that was a lie.

My partner tested positive for COVID a few days before Christmas, so I spent Christmas Day alone in isolation as a close contact like thousands of other Australians. 

After two negative PCR tests, I was out of isolation on December 28. (A 'perk' of my job is getting PCR results back as a priority, but that’s only so they can get us back to work faster). I got to go and see my family and the next day, I was back to work. 

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I’ve heard the patient who asked me about my Christmas making conversation with other staff, and I’m sure it’s helping her to deal with being in hospital in a pandemic and not being allowed any visitors. 

So why didn’t I answer her question truthfully? Because being in isolation when I was supposed to be enjoying a nice long weekend was hard, and not getting the short break that I was looking forward to has meant going back to work feeling even more tired than I was before. 

The hospital is so busy at the moment that I couldn’t acknowledge how I was feeling in case it slowed me down. I had to keep moving, keep working.

I know that the past two years have been difficult for everyone, but healthcare workers have faced so many challenges over this time. 

Along with the challenges of lockdowns and toilet paper shortages, we’ve been working in busy hospitals with constant changes in our work. 

Staff working in COVID wards were spending hours on end in full PPE, learning how to care for patients with a virus about which there is still so much to learn. 

Many were working out of their comfort zone as changes were made in other areas of the hospital to allow for the creation of COVID wards, or transitioning to telehealth to care for patients and having to provide tech support along with healthcare. 

Whilst we’re now all vaccinated, we still worry about catching COVID at work or catching it in the community and giving it to vulnerable patients.

Many staff are burnt out. After what we dealt with in 2021, we all needed a break, but so few of us have had one. Aside from weekends and public holidays, I wasn’t taking any extra time off. That would have been the same for many staff, and a lot of them have now ended up working overtime to cover for staff shortages as staff have been off work with COVID or as close contacts. 

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There are staff that didn’t get the break they were looking forward to as they were called back from leave to cover for staff shortages, and staff like me who were in isolation while they were supposed to be having a break.

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I have colleagues who used to joke that they wanted to be a close contact just so they could get a break from work. 

Now that the healthcare system is so desperate that staff are still expected to attend work as close contacts, they are saying that they wouldn’t mind catching COVID so they could have some time off work, and I don’t think they’re joking anymore.

The politicians have only just started to admit that the healthcare system is struggling. Whilst we’ve been at work dealing with incredible pressure, we’ve had to listen to leaders saying that the healthcare system is strong. 

But the strength of the healthcare system cannot be measured only on how many beds are empty or how many ventilators are available; these mean nothing without staff to care for the patients.

Hearing these comments about how the healthcare system is coping when we are under so much pressure has been incredibly insulting for us. It has also made our jobs harder as the community doesn’t understand how busy we are at the moment. 

Politicians have been slow to acknowledge the conditions that healthcare workers are experiencing, and the incredible job that we are all doing despite the situation. 

Instead, they seem to paint themselves as the heroes because they’ve allowed us to live with COVID, or they’ve managed to secure more rapid antigen tests.

There are staff from many professions in our healthcare system including nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, dietitians, speech pathologists, pharmacists, radiographers, pathology workers, orderlies, cleaners and administrative staff who are all continuing to ensure that people requiring healthcare receive the help they need. 

The staff in our healthcare system are brave, caring, compassionate, dedicated, and hardworking. But they are also tired. Really, really tired.

With our hospitals so busy and short-staffed that many of us are doing the work of two people, we deserve so much more respect from our leaders.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty.