Real Life

Time To Say Thank You: Meet the incredible NSW nurses fighting back against COVID with friendship and kindness

“We’re here for all our patients.”

By Emma Babbington
For healthcare workers on the frontline, life has never been so challenging.
But one group of intensive care nurses wants Australia to know that looking after their critically ill COVID-19 patients is a privilege.
"We understand that COVID is scary, but we're 100 per cent there for our patients and to make sure they get through this," says Liverpool Hospital's Rachael Gibson.
"We're not afraid."
Woman's Day recently met with the ICU nurse and her five colleagues and close friends – Jennifer Le, Radha Pala, Malita Segecic, Kayley McLaughlin and Anne Tran – to hear how they're coping at the epicentre of south-west Sydney's current outbreak.
The nurses socialised before the pandemic supplied
"This is such a massive once in a lifetime event," Anne, 25, explains over a Zoom chat.
"There are always ups and downs when it comes to working in ICU and it's not just us experiencing this, but since this whole pandemic started it has really tested everybody emotionally, mentally and physically."
But even on their toughest days, these hardworking nurses treasure the simplest of reminders why they signed up for a career that currently involves 12-hour shifts in full PPE.
"It's those moments when a patient or a relative says, 'Thank you.'
"It takes the stress off for the rest of the day and it's like I've done my job," says Malita, 26.
Kayley explains how this often occurs for the happiest of reasons.
"People think we just see everybody on their deathbed and it's horrible, but in reality we see so many people leave the ICU, and we see so many people get so much better," says the 24-year-old.
Forging connections in masks and face shields is challenging, but the women do all they can to put their patients at ease.
"All they can see is our eyes so we have little labels with our names on our heads, maybe a smiley face or something," says Rachael, 24.
However, working in the midst of a pandemic brings with it a heartbreakingly long list of worries for the young nurses, who work in cycles on both the COVID and regular ICU wards.
The ICU nurses are grateful for each others support supplied
"Although we're all vaccinated, we have PPE and all the equipment, we've heard stories of other nurses testing positive," says Radha, 25.
"I think one of the worst parts is going home and knowing you've got parents who would be at risk if they got COVID and thinking, 'I don't want you to come near me because I don't know what will happen if I have it and then you get it.'"
But there is one part of their job all the nurses agree is the toughest – when they help relatives say goodbye to their loved ones via a screen.
"It doesn't get easier," Anne says softly.
"But as a nurse, it's one of the most gracious things we're privileged to do."
And when moments like these become hard to bear, the friends keep watch for each other.
Now they catch up with virtual get-togethers supplied
"They're there when you need a hug, when your patient is doing really poorly, or you're not having a great day," says Kayley.
"They just make work so much better."
Adds Radha, "We always say to each other, 'It's OK not to be OK'."
The group went from being co-workers to the best of friends last year, when Jennifer, 24, invited them to her birthday party when restrictions eased after the first lockdown.
"We had a great time and I was like, 'OK, that's it, these are the girls who are going to be my work wifeys!'" she laughs.
Hugs might be off the table for now, but these six have refused to let the pandemic get in the way of their friendship.
They send each other thoughtful care packs supplied
They've swapped weekends away and nights out for group video chats with BYO cocktails and regularly send each other thoughtful gifts and care packages.
And amid these toughest of times, they do all they can to keep each other smiling.
"It can be like a therapy session with supporting each other but I think for the most part, we just have fun," says Jennifer.
"We make light of everything, we make jokes and cheer ourselves up because we know there's light at the end of this tunnel.
"And we know that eventually this will end."
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