Ashleigh Woods 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.”
These days it’s all par for the course for the 25-year-old Southern Cross University graduate who is now a Registered Nurse and Midwife at The Tweed Hospital.
Accredited in Advanced Life Support, Ashleigh has just begun working in an Airway role in the resuscitation room in the Emergency Department. The resuscitation teams include a doctor, nurse, someone dedicated to the patient’s airway, someone looking after their circulation and a team leader.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure the person’s breathing is maintained and if they need oxygen to administer it, to make sure they don’t have any blockages, then monitor their breathing,” she said.
“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.”
Ashleigh is just one of the many nurses and other staff now braving the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The hospital is testing many patients each day. They have a fever clinic and an isolation room for patients awaiting test results.
During shifts in the fever clinic the nurses, including Ashleigh, wear multiple pieces of personal protective equipment.
“When taking the Personal Protective Equipment off you have to wash your hands continuously. You have to wash your hands between each piece of PPE you remove,” said Ashleigh.
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.
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.