Saving lives at the John Hunter Hospital COVID ward

By Damon Cronshaw

As nurse unit manager of the COVID ward at John Hunter Hospital, Alexandra Mexon is as close as any worker can be to the frontline of the pandemic.

During the latest COVID-19 wave, which has hit the Hunter over the past five weeks, about 60 patients have been treated in the 32-bed ward.

Ms Mexon shared her thoughts about life on the COVID ward, which has about 60 nurses.

But one of the key messages she wants to share is aimed at making sure people never set foot in the ward.

"Everyone should get vaccinated," she said.

"I think everyone's really feeling this lockdown, but we need to remember to do the right thing."

Getting vaccinated, following public health orders, maintaining social distancing and handwashing protects individuals, but also eases pressure on our health workers.

"We'll be here to look after people and we need to be able to keep doing that."

She said the last couple of months had "certainly been quite challenging".

"Our ward is normally pretty intense anyway," she said, adding that it was usually where infectious patients with conditions like influenza and tuberculosis were treated.

"We normally have lots of quite unwell people. But the last few months have been more challenging, thinking about what potentially could be coming.

"There's that bit of anxiety about what's going to happen. Certainly it's always in the back of your mind."

Nevertheless, she said working at the COVID ward was "really rewarding".

"It's good to have purpose in your life. Certainly if you have purpose in your job, it's a bonus because we spend so much of our lives at work.

"We're contributing to this worldwide pandemic and helping people when they're at their worst. I feel this overwhelming sense of pride for my staff and my colleagues.

"I think we all feel very safe in our workplace. I actually wouldn't want to be working anywhere else at the moment."

She said everyone was working together - doctors, nurses, administration, allied health and cleaners.

"The teamwork is something to be commended."

One of the highs of the job is when patients get better and leave.

"To see the teamwork of the nurses and doctors that gets them to the point where they're well enough to go home is pretty amazing.

"To see them walk out or even if they're wheeled out in a wheelchair, it's a really great feeling because you've seen them so unwell. Then to watch them leave, that's absolutely one of the better parts of our job."

It's tough for any patient in hospital at the moment because they're away from family and can't have visitors.

"We are with people when they are at their sickest. It's not nice to be in hospital at the best of times, let alone in a lockdown. Having COVID is an added stress. It's scary to come into hospital and have this illness. We obviously take really good care of them and make them feel as OK as they can be."

Alexandra Mexon on the COVID ward at John Hunter Hospital with Evan O'Reilly, a clinical nurse specialist. Picture: Supplied

In COVID-19 news today: Friday, September 10

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