HEALTH HERO: Meet nurse on frontline of Coast COVID response
TONI Darlington’s life plan didn’t initially include nursing.
A stay-at-home mum for many years, she started her nursing degree at the age of 40, after her eldest daughter finished the first year of her own nursing studies and encouraged her to follow suit.
Now aged 53 and with three adult children, Toni has spent the past decade working in Hervey Bay Hospital’s surgical ward, where it’s fair to say she has found her calling.
Not only she has risen to the rank of clinical nurse, with a specialist portfolio of infection control, she has been a guiding force for the team responsible for looking after patients with novel coronavirus (COVID-19) who need hospital admission.
As team leader of Hervey Bay Hospital’s “COVID ward” – which operates within the current surgical ward, but with its own entrance – Toni has been supporting her nursing colleagues as they adapt to policies and procedures specific to the new and globally-challenging virus.
“With my portfolio being infection control, it was a logical step for me to be involved in the evolution of the COVID ward,” she said.
“Infection control is nothing new to nurses – it’s something we do on a daily basis.
“We use personal protective equipment and deal with infectious patients every day, so COVID-19 is no different with regard to nursing care.
“Having said that, COVID-19 is also probably something that will never again be seen in my lifetime, and has turned our lives upside down.
“Each year we deal with influenza patients, which can kill or contribute to the deaths of thousands of people each year, but we’ve never been asked to develop a specific ward to cope with influenza.
“This just goes to show how volatile COVID-19 is.
“Even though nurses use PPE every day, we’ve never before been asked to be a spotter for our teammates to make sure their PPE is on correctly, and to double-check they’re safe to enter the rooms of infected patients.
“It’s been a game changer, and we as nurses just have to go that extra mile to protect ourselves and the patients we’re caring for.”
COVID-19 has presented some other challenges for Toni, whose typical role revolves around caring for people after various kinds of surgery.
“Most of our COVID-19 patients are medical patients with multiple comorbidities, so I’ve had step out of my comfort zone, upskill and do a lot of self-education to be able to confidently look after them,” she said.
“Thankfully, we also have excellent educators at Hervey Bay Hospital, who have helped by running simulations and in-service sessions to assist with this upskilling.
“The camaraderie is also really important.
“Nursing can be both physically and mentally draining, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of the team you work with.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team to be doing this job alongside.
“We’re there to support each other and we have faith and trust in our team members’ knowledge and abilities, so we know we’ll stay safe as a team.”
As International Nurses Day approaches on May 12, Toni said the 2020 theme of “Nursing the world to health” – focusing on the true value of nurses to the people of the world – resonated with her more than ever.
“The true value of nursing is ensuring quality, safety and positive patient outcomes,” she said.
“The encounter between a nurse and patient forms a fundamental bond that determines each individual patient outcome.
“One of the most important roles nurses have is in patient education, whether it be in the hospital setting or in the community.
“People need to be proactive about their own health care.
“This means they need to comprehend their health status and health needs, and have the understanding to prevent or minimise complications, especially related to chronic illnesses.
“We, as nurses, have the skills and knowledge to ensure patients are effectively educated to care for themselves and minimise those complications.”
Toni said this education and awareness role was important all the time, but had been highlighted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen that the spread of COVID-19 can be prevented, if people are vigilant when they’re out in public and they continue to practise good hygiene and physical distancing,” she said.
“I do want people to understand that wearing gloves and surgical masks can do more harm than good, because it can run the risk of cross-contamination and provide people with a false sense of security.
“You’re much better to wash your hands on a regular basis and try not to touch your face in between hand washing.”
Reflecting on her career during the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife – marking 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale – Toni said she was glad she took the leap 13 years ago and chose nursing.
“I’m part of the most rewarding and trustworthy profession on the planet,” she said.
“Nursing has definitely been the right choice for me.
“Hopefully I’ve made a difference to someone’s world during my relatively short but very rewarding nursing career so far.”