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Dear diary, today I faced COVID-19

“I guess there’s a lot of pressure, pressure on us, and its, its very tiring and challenging to get breaks in and so on,” she says into her phone to no one in particular. 

“We’ve had, you know, young people that have had car accidents or motorbike accidents or attempted suicides, and normally the family would just rush to be with those people. You know, their parents, they want to be there at the bedside, but they just can’t. And that’s really, really hard. I think that somehow that goes against a parent… that goes against your instinct altogether, to be with your child if they’ve been hurt. So, I think that’s been a really, really hard part of the restrictions.” 

The 42-year-old intensive care nurse is talking about her work life during the COVID-19 pandemic. She describes the stress felt on the ward, she can see it on the faces of management, her colleagues. She talks about the struggle to get patients out and onto the ward to make room for the next lot. She is feeling the strain. 

“And there’s a bit of a feeling I think, from a nursing perspective, that we’re just numbers. You know that we’re not. We’re not. Yeah, we’re just there to do a job so that we can get more patients, see?” she says. 

This nurse is like millions of nurses across the globe who are facing down not only a deadly virus, but the added complexity of nursing in a stretched and panicked system.  

She is also helping us glean valuable insights into how we are dealing with this pandemic by keeping her diary via voice memo on a new WhatsApp channel dedicated to the stories of health workers. 

Led by researchers in the Nossal Institute for Global Heath at the University of Melbourne, The Health Worker Voices project is collecting and analysing these stories and collating key lessons about health systems’ responses to the pandemic, which they hope will better prepare us in the future. 

It is a very simple idea, the healthcare professional is able to record a voice memo anytime, from anywhere in Australia and as many times as they like – all anonymously. 

“We think it is at the heart of it a really simple concept. And really when an epidemic is unfolding in front of our eyes as we have with COVID, we know from past epidemics and most recently the West African Ebola epidemic that learning from health workers as the situation develops and unfolds is critical for us responding appropriately at the time,” says Dan Strachan, senior technical advisor from the Nossal institute. 

Strachan tells Nursing Review that in other situations researchers have approached health workers after an event which, while helpful, often gave insights that were condensed, summarised and lacking depth as memories often are. The immediacy of the Health Woker Voice channel will let researchers in on the challenges and successes of the health system as they develop. 

“We don’t know what’s most important and pressing for health workers. We need them to tell us what’s important. It’s not a survey. It’s just us inviting health workers to tell us what they think is the critical issue, over time. So they can come back again and again, tell us again if the situations develop, how our strategies develop or whatever the case may be in their setting,” he says. 

The project has already provided some interesting insights into how the Australian workforce has coped thus far and paints a picture of a workforce that has been able to adapt in tough conditions. 

“Across the data so far, we’ve seen a whole range of responses. People have zeroed in on their own coping mechanisms, coping in sense of their local systems. Being able to deal with increased demands within their services, dealing with their own, the demands on their own services individuall: how many hours they’ve been expected to work and the sort of duress they’re under.” 

One nurse, also working in intensive care, describes a similar worry for the families of her patients and the heightened stress levels felt on the ward brought on by the virus. 

“The ones who seem to have suffered most have been patients with other medical issues who’ve avoided coming to hospital because of the fear of getting the COVID-19 virus … Some of them haven’t survived what have been normally survivable illnesses,” she says. 

“People became very difficult about visiting. We limited visiting completely, not just to your patients with COVID-19 when we had them, but to all other patients… even, even the nicest families became really aggressive when they’re told to limit their time.” 

The technology used in the project only has the capacity to translate the English language for now. It does, however, have the ability to translate a range of accents, meaning the team at Nossal can potentially make comparisons between Australia and other countries harder hit by the virus, such as the UK and North America. 

Making the app anonymous may also help participants speak freely and help the researchers gain insights that any health department postmortem may not.

These voice memos, like written diaries of the past, will eventually serve as historical documents for future generations who may wonder what healthcare was like in 2020. And much like any diary, this project could help the authors to make sense of life and work through a tough time. 

“We were hoping that this concept will enable us to learn what health workers are doing in response to this challenge, how best can we learn those lessons, as well as giving health workers a needed opportunity to air whatever it is that they might not want to burden family members or colleagues with,” says Strachan. 

“To be able to get something off their chest, to explain something or just experiencing some sort of catharsis from a really challenging experience.” 

Start your story by clicking the link below. 

WhatsApp Link http://bit.ly/COVID-19HWVoices 

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