If pain must come, may it come quickly. Because I have a life to live, and I need to live it in the best way possible.Paulo Coelho
I want to sink into the abyss of forgetting, but how do you forget something that calls forth such strong and painful emotions and memories. They stick like glue to my mind, no matter how much I try to separate myself from the past twelve months it seems that it isn’t finished with me yet.
The year started with my home country Australia being ravaged by insatiable bush fires that took both livelihoods and lives, leaving many families with no home and no belongings. Some tried to stay and fight an impossible battle against the flames, others had to flee for the safety of themselves and their families. The news stations were filled with stories of pleas for help, families invariably being separated, and farmers already wearied hopes being torn apart after months of devastating drought. What many abroad did not realise was that Australia had entered the bushfire season quite early due to extreme dry conditions, with September marking the start of what was to become Australia’s “Black Summer” where billions of animals were either displaced or killed and millions of hectares were left charred by the tsunami of flames that overcame much of the East Coast. The most disturbing was both the loss of human life with 34 dying from the fires and 445 from smoke inhalation, but also the response by the Australian Government that saw countless firefighters including volunteers, fight these fires without adequate and appropriate masks. We felt helpless being so far away from home as we watched closely at the fires making their way closer and closer to some of our family knowing there was nothing we could do to protect them from where we sat – many didn’t want to evacuate but thankfully they all made it through safely. The fire season finally ended in May 2020.
We began hearing about Covid-19 early in the year but for the most part it was downplayed with reports saying it was under control here in the UK, so when we made the decision to go through with our holiday to Malta in February I felt reassured by our governments stance that we were fine to continue travel at that time. Looking back at the year that was, I am grateful for that holiday with my husband and two daughters because little did we know what the year was going to look like and how little anyone would be travelling worldwide. What awaited us soon after arriving home however was a very different and Mackenzie began home-schooling from the end of March along with all but vulnerable children or those of key workers, and because my husband and my eldest daughter was furloughed they took over the role of “teacher”.
The presence of Covid-19 became evident very quickly as it spread faster than anyone anticipated throughout our region and indeed the country, with many nurses wondering what the hell they had gotten themselves in for as the strain on our resources began to increase. I’m not going to lie, after working nearly two decades in healthcare through both swine and avian flu and having worked in infectious diseases for a time, nothing prepared me for the challenge of this virus. Suddenly nurses were thrown into a place where nobody really knew very much about the virus, our PPE advice changed constantly, our workload increased ten-fold, and we were nursing in a way that we had never done before. Seeing my patients decline so quickly without the presence of their loved ones has changed me forever and the heartache lingers still – you see my graduate year was in acute palliative care in Australia and the concept of someone dying without their nearest and dearest is unthinkable at best. We ourselves became the people who sat and held patients hands giving reassurance and comforting as best we could with the ever present risk that the longer you stayed in the area the higher the risk of contracting the virus.
I have always been quite the stickler for the rules likely made worse by having Clinical OCD, so appropriate PPE and handwashing is important to me. The change to wearing scrubs meant that we changed at work and in addition to that I would wear a mask in the car, shower and wash my hair as soon as I came home in a bathroom we had allocated just to me, and spend all my free time in my room – I was not about to risk my immunocompromised daughter, my husband, or my youngest special needs daughter because I could not bear it if I brought it home to them. Despite all this, I developed symptoms and became very sick very quickly and even nine months on I still struggle with the long lasting effects it has had on my body: shortness of breath, high blood pressure, numbness to my hands and feet, blinding headaches – the list goes on. More so the emotional and psychological trauma of sorting a will and saying goodbye to my kids when I was at my sickest and couldn’t breathe has changed me. I am sure at some point I will share a little more on this platform, but for now I will leave it at this except to say that here in the UK it is far from over for us and we are facing worsening casualty numbers that in the first peak of the virus.
When I eventually returned to work on altered duties/shifts as I tried to get stronger and recover I thought that was my only focus – get better and continue caring for my patients. Of course looking with hindsight nothing would surprise us in 2020 but at the time I was shell-shocked at the news that my brother had been violently assaulted back home and was on life support, and days later the diagnosis of brain death was shared via facetime with family and the doctors in intensive care and my final farewells was through a video screen also. To say I was broken is an understatement and to this day it is not over as we await a murder trial for his killer, I only wish that I wasn’t so far away from my mother so I could be there to support her more during this time.
Most in the UK began thinking the year was beginning to get some normalcy back with being able to meet in small groups again, being able to travel in the country again, and some even went overseas. We enjoyed a few short trips to Cornwall over the summer and autumn holidays although we still took more precautions than many around us including wearing masks in the streets where others were walking to prevent any “accidental” contracting of the virus. You could imagine how elated we were to find our that we could “bubble” with two other families for Christmas, that is until the week before when our district was placed into the newly created Tier Four category of restrictions and Christmas shared with others were cancelled. I cried. Not because I felt that Christmas was more important that lives, but because my eldest daughter would soon be leaving us to return to Australia until who knows when we can visit or return home ourselves. I cried because she was missing valuable time with her Aunt and cousins. I cried because she would be leaving her partner behind whilst he awaits a visa and being in different tiers they could not even go for a walk together. I cried most of all because I feel like this nightmare is never going to end.
I have hated so much of this year and I guess that is why despite wanting to forget it and move onto a new year, forgetting something that is so prominent is impossible, and besides that I have always believed that it is important to acknowledge it all because how can you appreciate exquisite blue skies without first experiencing the harshness of an angry storm. I guess the only thing to do is to look back over it and find the gold hidden amongst the rubble of 2020, and surprisingly there are many flecks of gold that were woven amongst the thread of this past year.
This past year has highlighted and reminded me of the personal attributes I already have but perhaps had forgotten. I know that having stuck out the most difficult year with a clear goal for continuing what I started showed me I have TENACITY and STRENGTH.
I stood firmly this year in the face of some bullying behaviour and acts of unkindness along with continuing to maintain my boundaries with family, friends and others despite the personal attacks I received for doing so which has furthermore assured me of my COURAGE and INTEGRITY.
I have stayed true to my beliefs and shown love, compassion, kindness and forgiveness in the way I believe God would want, and trusted Him to get us through the past year which has strengthened my FAITH.
I have worked diligently to develop myself and chase after my dreams of being a nurse educator and mentor and have now been able to commence in that role, and I am proud of my AMBITION and MOTIVATION.
This year I have worked at the art of recognising my own weaknesses and faults, and have embraced my VULNERABILITY in sharing my story, apologising when I am wrong, and asking for help when I need it.
I have worked hard at SELF-CARE by endeavouring to leave work on time where I can, saying no to things that no longer serve me, avoiding people pleasing behaviour (still working on this), and by not setting unrealistic expectations of myself.
You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.Scott Adams
I want to finish this by recognising the people who have had such a profound influence on me this year and extend my deep gratitude, however I won’t share their names to respect their privacy. Thank you to the colleagues who have gently encouraged me not only to extend myself in my career, but also have worked diligently to stand with me when I needed it and reminded me of the importance of self care. Thank you to the friends both past and present who taught me both want I wanted to be and what I did not, I found value in stepping back and taking note of the way others make me feel and how to best replicate that in my own life – in all I learnt it is important not to treat others how I want to be treated but to treat them how they want to be treated. Thank you to my family both given and chosen, for for sticking with me through this past year and for supporting me in any way you could. You have graciously allowed me to have a voice this year in all the things I have been struggling with and through all my achievements also, being heard is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.
How have you experienced this year and what are your reflections from 2020?