The following piece is written by Sarah Cunningham RN – Practice Nurse.

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Nursing in the Pandemic – a Practice Nurse’s experience

I am a Practice Nurse in a GP clinic. In Queensland. So my experiences are very, very different to nurses in other states. Or in other clinical or non-clinical locations. My experiences of the Pandemic are quite humorous and bizarre. I don’t deal with the disease itself. I deal with the people in the community, just ordinary Australians, who are influenced by their families, friends, neighbours, TV
adverts and social media. All totally bone fide sources of information – and most of it false!

I’ve had the retired lady from the local nursing home who wanted her covid vaccine so she could go to the optician and choose some glasses! She has some allergies but wasn’t too sure what they were. A quick phone call to the nursing home caused much hilarity as she had previously refused the nursing home doctor’s vaccine as “she’d rather die than have the vaccine!”. So imagine the RN’s reaction at the nursing home when I rang her, explained why I was calling and asked for her allergies.

After much discussion with my doctor, she was asked to bring her daughter with her – she was with her but still sitting in her car as the daughter didn’t believe in the vaccine. It was decided that this patient was not able to give informed consent as she believed she had more allergies – although not sure what, “but the hospital know”, this being one of the largest hospitals in the Southern Hemisphere and obviously ready to drop everything for this lady and quite willing to give me her information over the phone!

Needless to say, vaccination was refused until POA gave consent. I’ve had the needle-phobic people, who have had to psych themselves up for the injection. Valium is the medication of choice, usually accompanied by a family member to help soothe them or in one case, block the doorway in case they run away!

And the family members who hold their hands out of the way, so when they pull away (natural reaction) the needle goes into the right body part. The deltoid muscle is the target, not the back of their hand! On the flip side, I’ve had the ‘watchers’ who do just that. Watch. They seem to either love a good injection or to see that I do it right. (I do.) And they always congratulate me afterwards! Thanks!

Don’t forget the muscle twitchers, the leathery skins of the sun worshippers, the tattooed, the soft skin of the young, the bulging muscles of the gym-goers and the slightly more fleshy patients who require longer needles. I love injecting tattooed arms. I get feelings for the tattoo faces and try to avoid sticking them in somewhere odd – like an eye or somewhere that would hurt if their
body was real. Bizarre fact: many fully-sleeved tattooed people dislike needles!

There are so many of them. Big burly men and women covered in tattoos with a needle phobia! Just ask them the stories behind the tattoos and their anxiety disappears instantly. I can’t draw a stick figure accurately so I am amazed by the creativity of the tattoo artists.

I’ve vaccinated the reluctant – “I’m only doing it because of my job” or else they are stood down. One patient had a full-on panic attack, for 25 minutes. Sweating, physically shaking and crying. She would rather “give birth without pain killers” as she had done twice before than have any needle of any sort. Such was her needle phobia. She was a public servant and this was her second attempt at getting the jab. The first time she didn’t even get inside the clinic. At least this time, she got inside and into the treatment room and answered the questions. But no further.

She was due to be stood down and could possibly lose her job, full-time salary and ultimately, her house. That was rather a sad day as the patient was mentally ‘beating herself up’ as she failed to get the jab. Her demons were just too strong, on that day. I’ve also had the Telstra/Optus conspiracy theorists. Does AstraZeneca or Pfizer lock you into a specific telecommunications provider? Believe me, there are people out there who are quite certain of this. My husband works for one of these telecommunications companies, and I can tell you, it is false.

Otherwise, it is the government who want to track them. Because, naturally, the government want to track their movements specifically. It does make me question (in my head and quite sarcastically) what do they do? Are they secret billionaires? Do
they do something ‘dodgy’? Are they a wanted person? Or are they just a tradie/office/retail/hospitality worker doing their ordinary job? I’ve had a few reality TV stars come in. Just the same as on the telly but without the constant laughter or performance they are known for. Pretty ordinary people. Just doing a job, like you and me.

The last thing that tickles me, is that every patient, without exception, says “Thank you”. Thank you for sticking a needle in me when I have a needle phobia or thank you for being so kind and skilled? Or are they just being polite? Who knows. Who cares. They are vaccinated and prepared for the disease as best they can be. And good on them for doing so.

To conclude, I am entrenched in my community. I feel proud to be part of the vaccination roll-out and be able to provide such a service. I am very pro-vaccines and anti-covid. I have educated patients, through clinical research and hopefully, saved some lives. I’ll never know for sure but just that thought is enough to make my day and makes me feel proud to be a nurse.