My name is Hazel Nelson I have been a nurse for over 40 years, working in a variety of nursing jobs.

For the last 21years I have been a practice nurse. In March this year I left the UK for a holiday in New Zealand to visit my son and his family. Intending to return to the UK in June.

As you are all very much aware, Covid-19 then took hold.

New Zealand closed its borders and we had two days’ notice to go into level four lockdown. The lockdown was hard only one person from your household or bubble could go to the shops. We could go for walks but only in the immediate area with people from our bubble. It was at this time I decided to do my bit, as Nelson District Health Broad was asking for nurses. After a process that seemed to take forever and loads of paperwork to and from the UK, I got a temporary emergency work visa.

I started working at the Community Based Assessment Centre or CBAC for short. The setup was amazing – the DHB (District Health Broad) had taken over a disused working man’s club because it had a large carpark and many doors in and out of the building.

One nurse would be the triage nurse – she would be in the carpark taking the patient’s demographics and relaying the information inside with the use of a two-way radio. The patient would then wait in their car to receive a phone call asking them to go to one of the doors. (If the patient did not have a phone, the triage nurse was alerted on the radio to send the patient to the door.)

We had a ‘clean’ and a ‘dirty’ area at different ends of the building. The patient would be met at the door and invited into the building by the ‘dirty’ nurse on duty or GP – this person would do a full assessment and take the swab. Another nurse would write all the details on a paper template, fill in the lab form and label the tube. Being the ‘clean’ nurse, she/he would have contact with the office staff who generated the paperwork and updated the details on the computer. The ‘dirty’ nurse would stay in the pods. The patient would then leave the building via another door, making a good flow.

Last week we swabbed one hundred and thirty-eight Russian sailors who could not speak English and none of us spoke Russian, but we managed, with the help of Google translator.

Hazel Nelson

At the height of the outbreak we saw 170 people in one day and had four teams working in separated pods. The shift coordinator timed us in our PPE, so we never spent more than two hours in the PPE before a break.

The challenges were many, like working a two-way radio – that was never covered in my nurse training! Accessing patients in their cars while wearing full PPE and the patient in a mask made it difficult to know the extent of their illness. After the first day we got portable toilets for the carpark, as the waiting patients could not use the toilets in the building – that need had been overlooked.

The logistics of standing in whatever weather the day would bring, in full PPE with a radio in a plastic bay, gloves on, was hard. As it was winter here sometimes you had three layers of clothes under your PPE. and looked like a Teletubby. As nurses we rely on facial expressions to relay comfort and reassurance to our patients, but with a mask, googles and a no touch policy, it was very difficult.

We also took car registrations so we could identify which people belonged to which car, but not very many nurses know their phonetic alphabet. For example, A = alpha. This became a laughing point as people made up their own ones. For example, V = Varicose veins.

Now we have no community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand, but we are testing asymptomatic workers at airports and ports. This also has it challenges, as last week we swabbed one hundred and thirty-eight Russian sailors who could not speak English and none of us spoke Russian, but we managed, with the help of Google translator.

I have learnt during this time that nurses need to use their whole bodies to show empathy, not just their faces. Our voices need to be calm and we need to speak clearly because of the mask. PPE is here to stay, so we need to adapt. I have learnt many new skills including the need to look outside the walls of the surgery or hospital and to give great care wherever I find myself working.

Having been a nurse for forty-three years, you would have thought I may have known most things but my mantra to students is, “Every day, is a school day.” It sure is in these challenging times.

Hazel Nelson QN, BEM

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