Although Australia continues to battle high COVID-19 case numbers due to the highly infectious Delta strain, states such as New South Wales have chosen to ease some restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated.
In light of this decision, essential workers have taken to Reddit to share their struggles, as well as the grim reality of the COVID-19 situation and how it has affected Australia's healthcare system and workers.
Reddit user u/Cooked11111 — who is a nurse that lives in Sydney and works in the emergency department — was the first to share their experience. They wrote: "I'm exhausted...physically and mentally. I don't want to come to work anymore. I've been a nurse for six years and I love what I do, but not at the moment. It's really hard."
"Hospitals are not coping. Every day we are short-staffed and we don't have enough beds for the patients in our community.
The Sydney nurse ended their message with a final plea for Australians to get vaccinated if they haven't already.
The thread inspired other nurses to share their stories of working through the coronavirus pandemic. While the submissions are heartbreaking, they're important to hear so that we can understand what our essential workers are going through day in, day out.
They're also a crucial reminder to get vaccinated if you're able to.
1. "I'm a nurse in Western Sydney. I can confirm that shit is fucked. I'm nursing acutely psychotic COVID-19 patients in a 50-year-old ward with staffing levels that are inherently unsafe in an environment that has shared rooms and shared bathrooms. I've been spat on once in the last week and had someone actively trying to remove my respirator."
2. "Fellow ED [emergency department] nurse here with over a decade on the floor. Personally, I'm on the verge of burnout as my normal coping mechanisms are unavailable during the lockdown, but I try to hang onto the thought that this too shall pass. As a patient said to me once, 'I'm not going anywhere. I still got a few graves to piss on.'"
3. "Lab staff are severely overworked and understaffed. No extra staff have been employed, so you have technicians doing their regular roles — taking blood, collecting samples, and so on, then analysing them — PLUS COVID-19 nasal swabs and testing, PLUS anyone extra who ends up in hospital. The staff have had this extra strain for 18 months. And let's not forget that they have families affected by lockdown (job loss, home schooling, transport changes etc.) too."
4. "I'm at a small hospital and we're getting numbers that we didn't think were possible before. Despite this, admin are still complaining about the cost of putting extra staff on. At one stage, they expected me to work night shift in ED and cover the COVID ward at the same time. How fucking insane is that?"
5. "Our junior doctors have been asked to cover the entire floors of the hospital (six wards or more), with only a more senior doctor on the phone — but don’t bother trying to call, they won't answer because they're dealing with a million things as well."
6. "I'm a nurse at a tertiary referral hospital in Sydney in ICU [Intense Care Unit]. We have added more than 20 ICU beds, but actually lost nurses. Now, exec has decided to send physios down to ICU and they are going to be counted in our numbers. The balls exec has to send us emails saying how they support us and this R U OK nonsense after telling us striking is illegal. No respect for any of exec, NARMU [Nursing and Resource Management Unit] or [Brad] Hazzard."
7. "We need more staff, but NSW Health will not hire them or nearly enough. My ED has a deficit of at least 20 nurses, but at the last round of hiring new employees they only advertised to accept six nurses. It's bullshit."
8. "Not a medico, but in an associated field. Everyone in my department is burnt out and having disordered sleep, exhaustion, additional sick days etc. This premature reopening is going to be a disaster and they know it. If Gladys thinks she can waltz back in and save the day when we hit 4000 cases daily, she's mistaken."
9. "It's so chaotic. I know I’ll catch it eventually (I'm vaxxed, but still), but the part that stresses me out is the looming sense of doom that the system won’t be able to handle much more. I give it a week, maybe two max, before we start making really tough decisions. And I'm very glad I’m not in charge, because I don't know what to do."
10. "My husband is a nurse and said nurses had to cancel their time off and many have to stay back and do overtime, which his hospital tries to avoid as much as possible."
11. "I know of nurses and doctors who are complaining about the limited supply of PPE [personal protective equipment] in their clinics or hospitals. They're only allowed one mask a day. That’s absolutely disgraceful. We've had 18 months to get this basic protection sorted out, why hasn't it happened?"
12. "I'm a theatre scrub nurse and while theatre is dead we're being redeployed around the hospital. Scary shit for many senior nurses that have never worked in a ward environment! Hopefully, most of us will be working as COVID marshals or other basic stuff, as our skills do not translate well to the ward. One of us was sent to work in ICU and they wanted her to take two patients on her own after a week, which is crazy and unsafe! We don't even have a working knowledge of eMeds."
13. "My uncle and aunt are both surgeons at one of the larger hospitals and they tell me it's fucked. They're stressed, they've been in and out of isolation countless times and they're exhausted. I miss them terribly. I also have friends who are nurses being re-trained out of their area to assist and they've been in and out of iso — not just because of patient exposure, but also because of hospital childcare exposure."
14. "I'm a medical sales rep and I've been in all major hospitals in NSW. Doctors and nurses are always on edge due to the pressure from higher management. Higher management refuses to give them any extra support or staffing in a very tough environment and voices always seem suppressed. The above is pre-COVID. Now, introduce COVID and the hospital system is in chaos and all the cracks are starting to show."
"I watch Gladys, hear about the hospital system coping and all I see is lies. My heart goes out to all the doctors and nurses during these dark times. These doctors and nurses have husbands, wives, families, hopes, dreams, goals and hobbies. They have put their lives on hold because people refuse to follow the public health orders...Don't be selfish and get vaccinated."
15. "Let's say you're a chef in a kitchen. Normally, you get your tickets on what to cook and you can manage it within a reasonable time frame. Now, suddenly you're getting inundated with nonstop tickets for some odd reason. Restaurants are getting slammed with customers and are at capacity with queues out the door. You're barely able to churn out your dishes, but you're getting exhausted — mentally and physically. Your dishes are no longer at their tip-top quality."
"Your boss says you guys in the kitchen will be fine, just work harder. Look, we opened up another kitchen next door so you have more space and stoves to cook more. We got fridges, pots and pans ready for you to cook. The problem is that nobody is hiring more staff, your colleagues are calling in sick from exhaustion, new staff don't know how to cook your dishes until you train them, but you don't have the time. Now, instead of lower quality food, think of real patients getting lower quality care and the implication here is that these people have a higher chance of dying."
For context, this is an analogy used by a Redditor to answer another user asking what essential workers mean when they say "shit's fucked" in a hospital context.
Reddit responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.
To all healthcare workers, doctors, nurses and other essential workers — thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your commitment, dedication and the sacrifices you've made have not only kept us safe, but saved countless lives.
Here's hoping that the Australian government listens to your calls for help and that people continue to do the right thing.