Published: 05/10/2021
Category: On The Job
Published: 05/10/2021
Category: On The Job

“It’s like standing on the beach and watching the water being sucked out to sea, knowing that it’s coming back your way soon as a tsunami. All you can do is stand there and brace yourself for the impact.”

That’s what registered nurse Steven, told “On the Job” recently about how he felt as the case numbers mounted up in Western Sydney where he works in the emergency department of a major hospital.

Like so many healthcare professionals, Steven was drawn to the work because of his deep and instinctive desire to help people.

So, what happens when a public health emergency hits your community with the force of a cyclone and you find yourself trying to help as many people as you can, but unable to help everyone?

Suddenly, no matter how hard you work, how long you stay on your own two feet fighting fatigue, it never seems enough.

All the while you are trying to ignore the risks to your own health, trying to stay calm as all around you the sick and their loved ones are succumbing to fear and anxiety.

And outside the emergency department door, the ambulances are queuing up in a conga-line of COVID-19 patients awaiting desperately needed care.

That’s before you get to the regular array of emergency presentations at the hospital – from cardiac concerns to kitchen burns. They don’t suddenly stop because there’s a pandemic raging outside.

For many health care workers, this is not a drill. This is happening right here, right now.

Greta has seen it with her own eyes. She works at a large hospital on Melbourne’s suburban fringe. It’s a diverse community of hard-working people who make enough to get by in the good times and do what they can when things are tough.

She can’t use her real name because she is concerned for her safety and the possible ramifications of identifying herself, but she felt so strongly about what she is seeing at her hospital and in her community that she reached out to On the Job to tell her story.

“I hear so many people talking about how the hospital system is, how it should be able to cope and why we should open up. Then the media spends all its time focusing on the anti-vax groups,” said Greta.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a focus on healthcare workers and how hard we work and the challenges we are facing every day?”

Greta is battle-hardened. Working in a hospital emergency department in the outer suburbs is not for shrinking violets. Yet she has been rocked by the intensity and vitriol that healthcare workers are enduring now as the COVID-19 outbreak in her area bares down on her beleaguered community.

‘It’s a barrage of abuse that is just not warranted. People are under enormous stress, I get that, but hospital staff are as well, and they’re doing what they can to help. It’s exhausting.”

The resilience of her colleagues is something Greta takes great pride in. That durability and commitment from her fellow workers is almost at breaking point as infections reach new heights.

“These workers have been extremely resilient throughout the pandemic, but I can see that people are starting to lose their drive to work in such difficult and stressful conditions,” Greta told On the Job.

‘Wearing full PPE at all times, the abusive behaviour from patients, the extreme pressure to meet deadlines, whilst each day gets busier than the day before.

“We had another overwhelming day of emergency department presentations last week, and it might be even greater numbers this week.

“I can see these incredibly capable clinical staff are now at breaking point and I know of multiple resignations. I know it’s the same for the nursing staff and the clerical workers as well.”

The images of ambulances “ramping” at hospitals [queuing up to deliver patients to an already crowded facility] have been beamed across TV screens and social media, often used to paint the hospital as the problem – like it’s not coping with a situation it should take in its stride.

Greta fumes about this.

“Why isn’t the truth being told? Instead, our organisation’s reputation suffers which is a slap in the face for all those healthcare workers who work exceptionally hard.”

‘We are tired, burnt out, and under immense pressure but we keep going. We look after everyone, even those very people who say they don’t believe in COVID and won’t get vaccinated.”

She lets out a bone-weary sigh, resigned to her commitment, and wedded to her determination not to let the pandemic and the heavy burden of responsibility she feels get the better of her.

“We’ll continue to roll up our sleeves and do the work and look after people.”

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On the frontline: Healthcare workers share their COVID stories

On the frontline: Healthcare workers share their COVID stories