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EMPATHY

Kath—Registered nurse
Private aged care
Metropolitan Melbourne

I came to Melbourne about seven years ago to study and eventually found a job here and decided to stay. I love working with the elderly, caring for them and making them feel that they are cared for and loved.

The COVID-19 pandemic started in Australia in January 2020.

We had to wear PPE the whole shift, sweating through gowns and gloves. It was difficult to breathe and talk through the mask and face shield and this made it even harder to communicate with residents, some of whom were deaf. We had to lean in closer to let them hear, but at the same time we had to try to keep our distance.

When residents were infected, they had to isolate to prevent infecting others. However, most residents have dementia, so your instructions will be forgotten five minutes later and you see them walking down the hallway talking to other residents.

It was so tough that I totally thought of changing careers, but then I realised that I care for the residents too much to leave them. I wasn’t ready to leave them in tough times when most health facilities were short staffed and families couldn’t even visit them—you are the only people from whom they could feel the care and love they needed. So, I stayed, all the while hoping that it would all be over soon.

When the international lockdown started mid-2020, I got the news that my father was in hospital. I wanted to go home but I couldn’t. Plus I was still a temporary resident. I was worried that if I went home, I wouldn’t be able to come back. Even Australians were stranded in other countries and couldn’t come back, so how much harder would it be for a temporary resident like me?

My father died in mid-September and I didn’t go home. Yes, I chose my career over my father, but it was way more complicated than that. I had just started my career after studying here. My father had spent his money to get me here to study and work and have a better future. Last time I talked to him, he kept telling me not to come home because he was fine. I realised all fathers do that.

I continued going to work, distracting myself from the death of my father. But one of our residents was dying while I was grieving. I didn’t let my feelings get in the way. I showed up to work and did my duties. As a nurse, you just know when someone is about to die. We called the family to come and say their goodbyes. Her grandson came and we took him to the room. As the nurse on duty, together with our team leader, I had to stay in the room to show him emotional support.

The grandson cried and started begging his grandmother to stay strong and not leave him. He kept repeating the words while holding her hand. At that time, I couldn’t help but think to myself how lucky he was to be able to say goodbye to her. I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to my father. I couldn’t stop my emotions so I excused myself and left the room. Outside the room, I could still hear his cries and I broke down.

About a week or so later, I received a bouquet of flowers from the grandson in appreciation of me taking care of his grandmother while I was still grieving for my father. He learned my situation from my team leader and thought of buying me flowers. It made me realise that there are still people out there who appreciate you. It felt great being appreciated when I was going through my own grief.

I really appreciate my colleagues and all other healthcare professionals who never gave up and still showed up during the pandemic despite all their struggles. It’s not easy, so please be kind to others, no matter what. We are all going through something but we still show up, all smiles, distracting ourselves from our life issues, hoping that we’ll get through them. Be kind.