Some of my patients call me Sister Hardface Bitch. One also insists that I am secretly a lesbian, and I really don’t know why as I’m not.
I always laugh it off as it is just their way of coping with what they are going through.
I have been working as a nurse in the HIV unit of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for the past five years and when people ask me how I do this job, I always say I have no idea, but I know this is the job I am meant to be doing in my life.
When I was five, I went to hospital to have my adenoids out and my mother tells the story that when she came in the next day to see me, she found me walking around with another young patient and I was carrying her catheter for her.
Evidently, I turned to mum and said, I think I’ll be a nurse when I grow up.
From that point, it was never a question of what I was going to do when I left school -“ I just knew I would be a nurse.
When I left school and began nursing, I was in plastic surgery and that was fascinating.
Despite what people think, not all plastic surgery is for cosmetic reasons. Some of it was reconstructive and some was palliative care, which helped prepare me for when I began working with HIV patients five years ago.
The decision by RPA to combine the plastic surgery and HIV wards seemed like the oddest marriage at the time -“ it was a hospital cost-cutting and operating decision -“ but it actually has worked.
I had a good understanding of HIV when I began on the ward, but we all underwent a major education program to understand the many changes in the treatments of the virus which were being released at that time as so many things were changing.
We still have to keep up to date with the improvements being made, and that is a good thing as it means there are more options for our patients to consider.
We have many long-term patients and I find I get close to some of them and build a nice rapport with their partners, families and friends.
There have been some patients who I have volunteered to take care of on particular days when I know they are about to pass on.
I had a patient who recently passed on and I felt protective of him as I felt I had been on the journey with him and I wanted to deal with it as he left us.
The other staff here are great, but I felt like I had been through this with him and we were going to see it through together. I shed a lot of tears that day.
With the change in treatments, many of our patients now only
have to come in for day admission rather than having to stay here, and that makes coping easier for many people.
We have some people who drop in for treatments and then continue on to work. In the past, those same people might have been in here for five days.
So the way we operate has changed, but we are still as busy as ever because there are so many people dealing with HIV.
Seeing the increase in new cases of HIV really upsets me as I see what the real implications of contracting the virus are.
This virus constantly fascinates me in the way it reacts differently in every person we see.
Of course it does similar things and has obvious traits, but it is amazing to witness the many ways it presents itself.
Some people cope and are living really well, and for others it is tough all the way. This is a virus that doesn’t discriminate.
I like being part of a great team of people who are totally committed to improving the lives of our patients.
I think we all give great care, but we do joke around and have a laugh -“ and you need to. When the laughter and the humour stops, that is when you are in real trouble.
Sometimes, it is the humour that patients want -“ they want us to be normal and treat them like we would anyone else, so we do.
If we can have a laugh along the way while dealing with some of life’s tougher challenges, then I think we all cope a little better.
If I had been told when I started out that I would have spent the past five years nursing HIV patients, it would have surprised me.
I thought in those days I would be in full-time palliative care by now. But this is a job I love and I enjoy coming here every day.
I don’t really think I am Sister Hardface Bitch. I just give back as much attitude as some of them give me -“ and they love it!
What I like most of all about this job, however, is to see someone who is sick get up and walk out those doors and continue their lives. They’re the best days of all.
Interview by John Burfitt