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Mary—Registered nurse
COVID testing, vaccinations
Metropolitan Melbourne

I am a school nurse and, watching the TV, I saw the hard work hospital nurses were doing during the pandemic. Even though I went into work each day because we had vulnerable children attending school, I felt like I needed to help in the direct COVID response.

So, I did an online vaccination course, signed up to an agency, and in the school holidays joined the frontline, working in vaccination and testing centres.

The vaccination shifts were great, but I also felt fear and lack of confidence because I was attending a large, open site I didn’t know and working with people I had never met. Yet I also gained confidence. I am very computer literate, and this helped when we were using the computer programs. It was also fantastic to see people coming in by the droves, people who understood the importance of getting vaccinated.

I also did twelve-hour shifts doing PCR swabs at a large public education facility. I had one shift when the temperatures were in the high thirties, and we were doing swabs inside a marquee. Even though we had big industrial fans, the heat was overwhelming. We were told we could drink as much water as we wanted but we had to doff our gowns, masks, face shields and gloves to do so. That process in itself was exhausting. The donning and doffing stations were in direct sunlight so they were like saunas. I tended not to drink much because I didn’t want to go to the toilet and go through the donning and doffing routine yet again. I felt sorry for the security and traffic management staff as they were in the sun more than us and did not have any air-conditioners to relieve the heat.

Looking back now, I think it was crazy to be doing twelve-hour shifts! But the good thing was that lunch and morning and afternoon tea were catered for, so I was well fed and felt spoiled. It was also great that local cafes were getting business from us at a time when they were being hit hard by lockdowns. And the staff I worked with were always friendly and very supportive.

Would I do it again? Definitely!

I could not have gone another day with the guilt of not ‘doing my bit’. So I am proud of myself for taking part. It also meant I was up with the latest information about vaccinations, so in my school nursing job, I felt I could provide relevant and up-to-date information. That was important to me.

My friend told me to take a picture of myself during the vaccination and swabbing shifts, which I did. Decades from now, I can show these to my grandchildren and tell them what we all went through in the years of COVID.

I can’t believe what Australians endured. But I do believe Australia did the right thing taking on harsh restrictions—we needed to in order to protect all Australians.