Nursing on the COVID-19 frontline

Wednesday, 08 April, 2020

Nursing on the COVID-19 frontline

Ashleigh Woods is a Registered Nurse and Midwife at The Tweed Hospital. She is just one of the many nurses and other staff now braving the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having graduated from Southern Cross University and accredited in advanced life support, the 25-year-old has just begun working in an airway role in the emergency department resuscitation room.

The resuscitation teams include a doctor, nurse, someone dedicated to the patient’s airway, someone looking after their circulation and a team leader.

Ashleigh says she will never forget the first time she had to help a doctor insert an endotracheal tube into a patient’s lungs so they could breathe.

“It’s pretty intense. We got through it, I stepped outside and just burst into tears because I was so overwhelmed,” she said.

“You have to concentrate the whole time and you’re in the zone and you block all of your feelings, and then you walk out and go ‘oh my God that was so intense’. That’s why debriefing is so important.

Ashleigh is responsible for maintaining and monitoring a patient’s breathing, administering oxygen if needed and ensuring there are no blockages.

“We all work in emergency and we all love trauma care — you kind of have to be into that to be able to cope. It’s not that scary because that’s what we enjoy doing, we enjoy helping.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashleigh takes on shifts in the hospital’s fever clinic where she and other healthcare staff must wear multiple pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“When taking the PPE off you have to wash your hands continuously. You have to wash your hands between each piece of PPE you remove,” Ashleigh said.

As there is no current cure for the virus itself, patients are treated for individual symptoms. The majority of people with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and will recover without needing hospital care.

Unfortunately, though, some patients will be significantly unwell and will need to be cared for in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Northern NSW Local Health District is already recruiting new staff and training existing staff in the additional skills needed to work in ICU, as well as other areas of the hospital.

“Not all nurses can work in critical care or in ICU,” Ashleigh said.

“I can ventilate someone as an Emergency Nurse but not in the long term, I don’t have that training.

“We’re all on the spot now. You just become flexible, you adapt and do what you need to do and overcome it.”

When asked what she liked most about nursing, Ashleigh reminisces about a past patient at St Vincent’s Hospital in Lismore whom she managed to win over, despite the fact that he took a strong dislike to every other staff member and nurse.

“Nursing is so different to being a doctor. As a nurse you’re really the one providing that compassionate care to patients, and you’re there for them. You’re there for them when they want to talk.”

Applications are now open for mid-year entry to The Bachelor of Nursing, starting in June, at the Southern Cross University.

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