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Nursing a lifelong job for Bundaberg nurse who is on the frontline of the COVID-19 response

Emily BrudenellTESTING positive to COVID-19 and being isolated at home has been a scary reality for some people in the Bundaberg region over the past couple of months – but there’s been a calm and reassuring voice on the other end of a phone line for many of them.

That voice has belonged to Bundaberg Hospital clinical nurse Emily Brudenell who, as a member of the Integrated Care Access Team (ICAT), has been a key point of contact for COVID-19 patients isolated at home.

“I’ve been phoning COVID-19 patients each day to find out how they’ve been going, to monitor their signs and symptoms and to ensure they have the right equipment and we’re getting what they need out to them,” Emily said.

“Our team has been their point of contact and, if they get worse, we’re the ones who get a doctor to see them.”

Being that point of contact has proven challenging as information about COVID-19 has frequently changed and patients in isolation were feeling stressed and cut off from the world.

“In the beginning things were literally changing on a daily basis and the information we were giving patients one day could change the next day,” Emily said.

“I always assure them and encourage them not to dwell on what is changing, but to concentrate on what the instructions are for the day.

“I’ve also been trying to alleviate some of the frustrations and anxiety they’ve been experiencing – people are treating them like they have the lurgy (and should be avoided), and they’re feeling really isolated.

“Sometimes I’ve been on the phone for 45 minutes with these people as they have no other daily contact and they offload all of their daily stresses, and I try to answer their questions. It’s very fulfilling to help them.”

In the lead-up to International Nurses Day on May 12, Emily, 40, has been looking back on her career and reflecting on what it means to be a nurse.

“I’ve never thought of life after nursing, because I’m a nurse for life, and I’ve always felt that way. I’ll probably still be nursing at 80,” she said with a laugh.

“COVID-19 has just strengthened that thought for me – sometimes it can feel like a job where you get no thanks, but this has been a big eye opener and people do appreciate nurses.

“There are such generous people in Bundaberg making things and bringing things in to the hospital to support us. It’s been so nice to feel appreciated.”

Having been born and raised in the United Kingdom, Emily trained at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at Kings College in London, and qualified as a registered nurse in 2001. She also followed up that study by gaining a Bachelor of Science in Cancer Nursing.

Emily has worked in the medical ward of London’s St Thomas Hospital and later in oncology and palliative care, including a stint at Guy’s Hospital in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.

“My history is oncology and palliative care. I’ve always dealt with people who are at the end of life, and to me it’s really important that people have a good end of life,” she said.

“I’ve always prided myself on being there and making them relaxed and comfortable at the end.

“It’s a really personal thing for the patient, and for me it’s an honour to be there.”

Emily moved to the Gold Coast from the United Kingdom in 2011, after previously visiting the country as a backpacker – including time picking sweet potatoes and zucchinis in Bundaberg, where she continued to practice as an oncology and palliative care nurse.

When she moved to Bundaberg permanently a year ago, she started in a temporary relief role in the Bundaberg Cancer Care team before moving into the Community Hospital Interface Program (CHIP) team – which focuses on a safe and supported patient transition from hospital to the community.

“I did some shifts in CHIP and got to know what they do. I loved how they went about their nursing, how autonomous it was, and how it kept people out of hospital,” Emily said.

“We get to look after people in their home, back in their usual and familiar surroundings, which is pretty special.”

The response to COVID-19 has seen some changes to how the CHIP team works, providing more opportunities to use technology and telehealth, broadening the type of patients they normally see and fast-tracking the rollout of the ICAT program to free up beds at Bundaberg Hospital.

“We’ve put in place a hospital avoidance plan – for example, if someone is unwell in the nursing home they will contact ICAT, instead of the ambulance, who will go out there and assess them in their own familiar surroundings instead of having to transport them in and find them a bed,” Emily said.

While COVID-19 has been a challenging time for health staff, Emily said she felt plenty of positives had emerged that were worth remembering on International Nurses Day.

“When this all started, I thought about when I was younger and my mum told me that nursing was a job for life and you will always get a job as a nurse,” she said.

“You see all these people who have lost their jobs, so I was thankful and proud to be a nurse.

“Nurses also can’t work from home – we’re at the forefront of this. So I think COVID-19 has made people more appreciative of what we do and how hard we all work.

“Watching what everyone is doing in the hospital has just been amazing.”

Last updated: 12 May 2020