Photo: Supplied by Brownwyn Hausler MACN
During the February 2022 floods in southeast Queensland and northern NSW, I volunteered as a student Registered Nurse (RN) to assist the evacuees based at a Southern Cross University campus in Lismore. The facility was transformed almost overnight from a place of learning to a place of shelter for hundreds of homeless and displaced people.
Arriving at the evacuation centre, I had expectations of what I would be required to assist with using skills such as clinical wound care and medication administration. It soon became clear that the primary issues were social and physical welfare – factors that impacted people’s survival and quality of life.
Adapting quickly, and with the support of an amazing multidisciplinary team, I devised a plan of care, making sure to stop, listen and take the time to let the survivors share their stories.
Most of them were desperate to talk about their experiences during the flood, and how they fought to cope while their homes and lifelong possessions were being washed away. Some even talked about freeing themselves from their house via rooftops as water levels rose at terrifying speeds. Being present and allowing people to be heard was a skill I shall be reminded of throughout my nursing career.
From a social perspective, the evacuation centre was filled with people from lower socio-economic communities – a combination of those used to sleeping rough, from shared housing communities or housing commission.
Access to medications was a challenge with many people concerned about possible withdrawal symptoms and their ability to access their routine medications and treatments. Understandably, this caused concern to all, and the volunteers were called upon to assist when emotions ran high. Our calming influence was integral to the emotional well being of all affected.
Feelings of vulnerability surfaced. I noticed that the women and elderly needed to feel safe and cared for. As such, I was assigned to provide that safety for personal hygiene activities such as showering and toileting this cohort of people. We worked closely with social services, the local police, university leaders, and fellow students and volunteers to achieve safety for all.
It was impossible to not let some of the stories affect me, so I was grateful to attend a debrief arranged by Julie Jomeen, Executive Dean, Faculty of Health of Southern Cross University. Being able to share our stories and experiences together helped to compartmentalise some of the feelings I had. It also empowered me to know that even seemingly ‘small’ deeds such as listening to a person’s story is a vital aspect of holistic nursing care to help those in our community.
On International Nurses’ Day, I had the privilege of being invited back down to the Lismore campus to be interviewed by radio and local newspapers regarding time spent at the evacuation centre. Letters of commendation were given, alongside a much-loved Bunnings sausage, as special thanks for the volunteer work.
Although truly appreciated, the heroes during that period were the survivors who showed courage and resilience to fight so hard for their lives during the floods, and who now continue to fight to regain some semblance of normalcy in a devastated region.
I thank those for entrusting me with such incredible stories of bravery, and for this, I am grateful to have chosen nursing as my lifelong career choice.
Bronwyn Hausler MACN
Bronwyn Hausler MACN is a current third year Bachelor of Nursing student at Southern Cross University. She commenced her nursing career in 2014 as an Enrolled Nurse in perioperative services. Passionate about holistic patient care, giving back to the community, and leadership opportunities, she is a proud Emerging Nursing Leader within the Australian College of Nursing.