I am a registered nurse. I work in a community program delivering care to people living with chronic health conditions, people who are the most vulnerable. It is these people who needed to be protected from COVID.
When COVID commenced, our day revolved around updates from management, relaying updates from the Department of Health so we could develop COVID protocols for absolutely everything.
All home visits stopped. We reverted to phone calls and telehealth and made contactless drop-offs to clients who needed food parcels. We negotiated with GPs for client reviews so clients could get their prescriptions and keep their health on track, and we worked hard to boost the confidence of our clients in using telehealth for the first time for their GP reviews.
We needed creative solutions to keep our clients connected, supported and afloat. Clients living alone and cut off from everything were particularly hard hit. You could hear it in their voices when you did phone follow-ups and check-ins.
Our team developed lists about things our clients could do to stay busy and active in their homes: doing jigsaws, visiting art galleries online, writing letters to others and watching concerts on YouTube were just some of the suggestions we made to help lonely people break up their day.
We admitted all new clients over the phone and did not meet some in person for many months.
Every work meeting went online too. They were always about COVID and regulations that constantly changed: one thing on a Monday and another on a Friday after having been changed many times during the week. Most needed a different approach each time.
It reminded me that the changes we were making to deal with isolation are the things that rural outback communities do every day—not seeing neighbours, kids educated through School of the Air. They do it all the time—we needed to adapt quickly.
In 2021, my role changed. I was put into a remote-program monitoring role where I was to monitor COVID-positive clients in the community. This meant speaking to people every day to get their readings for oxygen levels and temperature, do a mental health check, ask about any shortness of breath, and check whether they had everything they needed to safely manage home isolation for fourteen days.
Problem-solving was a critical skill. Some clients in home isolation had no drinking water, so I would arrange with their local council to deliver them bottled water. One client relocated to a caravan in the backyard and was then locked out of his share house and left without access to a toilet. By the end of the day, we had arranged a portable toilet and funding to pay for it.
Some clients would bargain to leave home quarantine early. They felt shamed because, living in a smaller community, people would find out that they were COVID-positive and target them on social media. COVID brought out goodness in some and unkindness in others.
I felt like I was living in a movie—and the movie was so bad, I had no interest in watching it, let alone living and breathing it myself. Colleagues around me were fatigued and desperate for a break. It was so hard to see the finish line or believe we were ever going to see a football match sitting at the MCG ever again.
But here we are in 2023, back to our new normal. Our vulnerable are now vaccinated, masks in the community are at a minimum, we can once again have a face-to-face consult with our GP, we no longer need to declare our health status with a QR code, contact tracing is a lifetime ago. But some things have changed forever, that’s our reality.