We need our nurses.
Right now, they are the most important workforce in the country. Not politicians or real estate agents or tradies or miners. Nurses. Paramedics. Hospital doctors.
They are the soldiers in this stupid war – the people who live and work at the coalface of the Covid Pandemic. The people who calmly reassure us that it’s okay when it really doesn’t feel like it. Who take our vitals, find us beds, give us oxygen. Who intubate and resuscitate us. Who are there with us when we die.
When their shift finishes, they pull another one, and then, when their bodies ache from a fatigue that goes bone deep, they have to go home to their family, make dinner, unpack the dishwasher and chat like all that didn’t just happen.
I am a comedian, people say to me, ‘That must be the hardest job in the world’. No, the worst that can happen is people don’t laugh at my jokes. I’ve never had to resuscitate anyone after a failed punchline. A nurse or a paramedic deals with human trauma. Often with the profound loss that loved ones feel. They have to find somewhere to put all those feelings because the next day they have to do it all over again.
When the PM said ‘We have no choice but to ride the wave of COVID-19’ he neglected to mention on whose backs we’d ride that wave.
He neglected to mention the very people who have been in the water the entire time. While the rest of us took shelter on JobKeeper or pandemic payments, they were out at sea.
And now, when it comes to ‘riding the wave’, we call on those same people. Those tired, broken and unappreciated health workers, to see us through. And that wave? Well it’s not even at its peak yet.
And let’s not forget they’re doing all of this work while wrapped in plastic.
When they’re on shift for six hours or more their clothes are so wet they can wring them out. It’s like wearing a wet shower curtain. Any bare flesh gets damp and rubs against the plastic so they get chafing in weird spots like inner forearms. The pressure areas from their masks start to hurt.
And I’m told you can’t hear very well; once you’re wrapped up like that it’s hard to communicate. Glasses steam up and drip.
Everyone I know bitches about wearing a mask for ten minutes. Some people I know got a doctor’s certificate to say they are exempt. When you are a nurse or a paramedic you don’t have a choice.
Nurses are an ageing workforce, and predominantly female. Many are menopausal and being in PPE and having to work so bloody hard and being so bloody tired is the perfect inducement for a hot flush. Not one that you can get away from. When a hot flush rages under the plastic there is no way out.
A hot flush in PPE is like being in a sauna. And that’s for people working in air-conditioning.
Paramedics are outside in an Australian summer.
I am ashamed of how we treat our nurses and paramedics.
Right now every nurse and paramedic in this country has been pushed to the brink of collapse. We are breaking them mentally, physically and emotionally. Did you know that the conditions in NSW, the pay, the ratio’s, they’re worse than in Qld?
The base rate for a paramedic is $33k less here in NSW. So why do they stay?
Long serving paramedic, Benjamin Gilmour, author of several best-selling memoirs about his experiences on the frontline was contemplating leaving the service because he couldn’t deal with the stress of a job that does not pay a liveable wage. ‘$36 an hour, when [a job] selling Fake Tan on SEEK was offering $50.’ He laughed ‘If I can deliver a baby in the bush, I can sell fake tan.’
That would be a huge loss. NSW taxpayers invest $250k per head to train up paramedics, and then we lose them to Queensland or unskilled jobs like selling fake tan. These are university qualified professionals – many with postgraduate qualifications who are not being paid a professional wage.
Our government has no problem committing billions to buy tanks and nuclear submarines, but last year nurses and paramedics got a pay freeze. Is this their plan? Underpay them so they have to do overtime? Fill those extra shifts by starving your workforce; cynical or neoliberal? Ask one of the staff who’ve just walked. According to the Nurses Union, more nurses are leaving now than those who left because of mandatory vaccination.
Politicians have to stop saying ‘we have capacity’ when we don’t. The capacity they talk of is in the mental health and wellbeing of those overworked nurses and paramedics. Those people are on the brink of collapse. And they’re not allowed to speak out. NSW Health stipulates that nurses and paramedics are not to leak what their real experience is. That’s career suicide.
My friend who works in ICU says ‘We’re at the intersection between angry and scared and resigned and sad. The whole situation is pretty fucked and I’ve not got a lot of optimism for the next few weeks’.
We’re not riding the wave. We’re riding them. Our nurses, our paramedics and our emergency doctors.
I’m tired of decisions being made in the name of ‘saving the economy.’ Without a healthy population we don’t have a functioning economy. And without our nurses and paramedics we won’t have either. So let’s pay them properly.
We can’t afford not to.