What it’s like to be a nurse, bar owner and a flight attendant right now

Hating #isolife? Well, what if you were nine months pregnant? Or a nurse? Or a bar-owner? This is what it feels like for them.

Here’s something obvious: these are not easy times.

We’re bombarded daily with fresh pandemic news from how long it can last on things to new, key symptoms and the seemingly 45,000 ways to work from home. The days feel like they last four years, but then you also get to the end of it and wonder what you did all day (and if you even showered).

And, while it’s easy to be sucked into a pity party for one, it’s also helpful for your mental health to take a moment and think about how this affects people other than yourself. Because, while we may be all in this together, each person’s experience, and the way they are adjusting is unique. Here, we speak to four different people about how coronavirus is affecting them.

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Preparing for the worst

The nurse

Vicky Jones has been an Intensive Care Unit nurse for 13 years. For the past year she has been working as a continuous improvement coach, supporting change throughout her hospital – though she couldn’t foresee change quite as dramatic as this.

“A few times in my career we’ve started preparing for the worst – like Ebola. But there was never a time where we thought we’d have an influx of ICU patients and the hospital maybe wouldn’t be able to cope with it,” she says.

Back in February when we were still all enjoying lattes and long hugs, hospitals were already in planning and preparation mode. According to Vicky, when the virus spread outside China, and its strain on medical systems (specifically in the ICU) was seen, hospitals jumped into action.

“We’re so fortunate that we haven’t seen the numbers that the rest of the world has seen, and also that it’s started to plateau a bit, but we’ve still been ramping up planning. That said, up until even last week it felt like every plan we made would have to be revised because of new Government recommendations. It was really stressful because you work 24/7 trying to solve one problem and then it would change.”

So what is it like on the Aussie frontline? While she admits that it’s obviously stressful Vicky also says that going to work and having that sense of purpose and human interaction is good for mental health. On the downside, she literally can’t escape COVID-19; “You go to work and it’s what we talk about, you go home and it’s on the news. It got to the point where I had to ask my family (who live in the UK) not to text me about it anymore, and to limit my own news and social media. It was just too much,” she says.

Transforming the entire business model

The bar-owner

There’s probably been a few (hundred) times over the last month where you’ve lamented the absence of Friday night drinks with a mate. But ever wondered about the people who used to serve you drinks? What are they doing now?

Marc Banytis is the Part Owner and General Manager of Old Palm Liquor in Melbourne’s Brunswick East. The bar/restaurant had been opened for just five months and had a collected an impressive list of reviews and awards before COVID-19 hit. But, like many people during this time the business has to adapt – at lightening speed.

“We has always had a takeaway license so we quickly pivoted and turned around the business in a day. We had to move really quickly… and I definitely wanted to vomit a lot that week. The bar and restaurant as we knew it was shut down and we reopened essentially as a neighbourhood cantina,” he says.

They now sell their wine by the bottle alongside fresh baked bread, scones, a full takeaway menu – and you can even buy tap wine and beer by the 1litre bottle. According to Marc it’s a time where they’ve seen community spirit thrive. People come in to get their supplies, have a chat (at the appropriate 1.5 metres, naturally) and hear some good tunes while they’re at it.

Like all those in hospitality, many staff had to be stood down, but as customers have adapted to the new Old Palm, they’ve been lucky enough to be able to rehire half of their staff. “I think one of the greatest learnings from this time is the power of social media. People have just been sharing and getting on board, and we have people coming in that have said five of their mates have recommended us…”

Marc also says the other unexpected silver lining has been their agility in being able to transform a business in a short time – and in that seeing that there were better, more efficient ways of doing things. “We are definitely going to still be doing some things COVID style when this is all over,” he says.

Moving into full protection mode

The eight-months pregnant woman

Pregnancy is a time of many big emotions – happiness, fear, excitement, uncertainty, but being at the end of your pregnancy, and about to give birth right now is a whole different ballpark.

Marcela Whelan is the Co-Founder of Australian-made sustainable swimwear label, Marla Swim, and she’s also two weeks shy of giving birth to her second child. Aside from having a very different pregnancy to her first (including early issues with her cervix), she also suffers from anxiety, which has naturally been triggered a lot during this time.

She says COVID-19 started to really affect her pregnancy at around 31 weeks. “I had a scan and remember feeling really uneasy in the waiting room,” she says, “at that point we were aware of the disease and extra sanitising equipment was present but there was no social distancing or masks being worn.”

By 34 weeks she was advised that no children or spouses would be allowed in appointments, and the uneasiness grew. “I am still nervous, if not more since that day. My whole pregnancy experience has been affected, my daughter is no longer allowed to visit me post birth. My husband is able to be present during my C-section, however he can’t be with me prior to be going in or post-delivery, plus there’ll be restricted visiting hours.” This means she’ll be pretty much alone for her time in hospital, which is something she’s trying to make peace with.

But while she’s dealing with her new hand of cards, she’s also frustrated with the people who are ignoring the regulations. “It’s like I am always on edge at the supermarket, if someone stands too close to me I feel angry and protective of myself, my baby and my space.”

Like many others, Marcela is keeping calm by minimising her media consumption and making a rule not to centre every conversation around the pandemic. “It’s also been a pleasure to escape into my brand (Marla Swim) and share beautiful photos and the plans for when we all come out of this. I need that mentally, it’s something to look forward to,” she says.

Grounded, but optimistic

The flight attendant

Undoubtedly one of the hardest hit industries during this time has been travel. Planes are grounded, borders closed, and Italian-summer dreams permanently parked. But while personally, our tans and Instagram’s may suffer, what about the people whose life is travel?

Casey Grant has been a QANTAS short haul flight attendant for 20 years. She remembers the day that the reality of COVID-19 really hit home – it was the day the announcement was made that the crew would be stood down. And in her two decades in the role she had never seen something that had affected her industry so much.

Of course extra safety measures had been put in place for months with extra vigilant rubbish collection procedures, masks being available to crew (which they had since the bushfires last year) and hand sanitiser, naturally, was always an onboard essential. But day-to-day it was pretty much business as usual… until late march.

“When the announcement was made that the borders were closing and aircraft were being parked and crew being stood down, it started to feel real,” Casey says. “I was actually feeling OK about it, but going into the crew lounges and seeing the stress on some of the staff’s faces… and the tears – that got to me. The airport was dead and it just felt eerie.”

Despite this, Casey remains optimistic and impressed with the continual support throughout the experience, not to mention the camaraderie between staff. Many options had been given to staff to help support them financially (including options to take paid leave), with some even being temporarily reemployed at Woolworths (who QANTAS have a relationship with) to help the strain on the supermarkets.

“We were still able to keep our jobs – which we’re all grateful for. I completely understand the decisions the company has made and I stand by them. They’ve done so much for us and continue to check in with calls weekly, and also support for our mental health with counselling available.”

As for flying again, the “when” is a great unknown but Casey is taking it a week at a time and focusing on the positives of the situation – something we could all be taking inspiration from.

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.