No doubt at some point in your life you have come across an angel working as a nurse in your local hospital. I have had my fair share of hospital visits and have been eternally grateful to the nurses providing quality care. Today we sit down and chat with one of these superstars Sarah Mueck as part of our women we love series. Sarah works as an emergency nurse and is a qualified paramedic …
AMICA: Tell us a bit about your job?
Sarah: I’m a registered nurse with a post graduate diploma in Paramedicine (Paramedics). Since becoming a nurse I have always been interested in Emergency nursing.
Emergency nurses provide rapid assessment and treatment to patients in the initial phase of illness or trauma and often in life-threatening situations. We specialise in assessing, intervening and stabilising a variety of trauma and illnesses with decisive action. Due to the range of medical conditions that may require urgent treatment and care, we must be knowledgeable about general as well as specific health issues. As some have said, ‘we are a jack of all trades, master of none’.
Everyday is different for me in the Emergency department, I can work at triage, which is a method of prioritising injuries based on medical need. Other days are spent working in the acute area of emergency or in the Resuscitation room.
I also work as a MET (Medical Emergency Team) nurse who responds to emergency calls anywhere in the hospital. This is particularly interesting as you can attend anything from paediatrics to theatres, to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) emergencies.
AMICA: Why did you become a nurse?
Sarah: There are so many reasons I became a nurse. It’s a very rewarding career. Making a difference in people’s lives and bringing them hope and cheer is not something that you can achieve in just about any job. Nursing allows you to work in different environments, each accommodating individual interests. Nurses can work flexible schedules, this is particularly important when accommodating side jobs, family and education opportunities. Nursing provides you with the unique opportunity to work and interact with an array of people (doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians, radiologist, and patients), and I tend to like to socialise.
In addition to the above, I was in a car accident when I was 15 years old, which left me hospitalised for three weeks along with intense physiotherapy for a year. I had bent the top of spine and tore all surrounding ligaments. So they used my hip bone to replace the damaged disks in my neck. They then used a plate and screws to stabilise my neck forever. Finally, they put an artificial bone in my hip so it wasn’t deformed.
Although everyone was fantastic in caring for me, the nurses honestly got me through each day. It was the little things they did to make my day easier, for example knowing that log-roll was one of my biggest relievers of pain, thus ensuring my turns were on time. Heating up my cold toast in the mornings to ensure I ate adequate amounts of food. Reassuring me at night when I was alone and didn’t have my family around. Including my family in my care when possible, and getting to know me just because they cared. There was one particular nurse who I will never forget who said “the greatest gift we have is the gift of life”- there is nothing more true. He kicked my butt into gear one day when I was struggling with pain, he looked me straight in the eye and said I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” Walking up stairs has never been so satisfying. That raw honesty and encouragement was exactly what I needed.
AMICA: You have recently worked in some remote places such as Thursday Island. Can you tell us more about this? What were the differences compared to working in a metropolitan hospital? What did you experience?
Sarah: Rural and remote nursing was fantastic. I was looking for a challenge in my career and rural/remote nursing felt like a good choice. Thursday Island was my first contract away from my usual employment in a metropolitan hospital. I had to catch three planes and take the ferry to reach my final destination. I thought- what am I in for?
Thursday Island is both beautiful in scenery and in culture. Working in the hospital was definitely eye opening, and an experience I’ll never forget. I learnt so much about the Torres Strait and Indigenous culture. The presentation of illness and disease is so different at times. The challenges of isolation, socioeconomic, and language barriers were all daily hurdles at work. I remember on my first day up there a senior nurse said ‘you will sink or swim up here. Just equip yourself with an open mind and sense of adventure and you will be fine’. I took those words on board and thankfully, I swam. Speaking of swimming, in my first week working in the Torres Strait a patient asked if they could ‘go for a swim’. They seemed surprised and confused when I said no because:
1. You’re acutely unwell, and
2. The ocean is swarming with sharks and crocodiles.
A fellow nurse came in and informed me that ‘swim’ meant shower/bath. We both had a laugh and I didn’t make the same mistake again.
The people up there are amazing and so welcoming. Every day I experienced things plus, the daily challenge of working with limited resources enabled me to improve my problem-solving skills and think outside the box. For example, ventilating a patient for three hours awaiting the chopper as the only ventilator was being used, attending daily dressings on necrotic feet with minimal compliance to wound care, triaging patients who present five days after partially amputating their fingers stating they have a ‘cut’, to becoming confident in caring for patients with rheumatic heart and active tuberculosis.
AMICA: Being an emergency nurse you must have some pretty rough moments. How do you keep your physical and mental health in check?
Sarah: The toughest part of my job is coming to the realisation that you cannot save everybody. I find children in particular quite difficult to deal with at times (not because of lack of competence or confidence) but emotionally. Severe illness, injury and death in children will always be a traumatic experience for all involved and I find debriefing with colleagues and friends my best outlet. I’m fortunately lucky enough to have extremely supportive and caring people in my life which makes this all much easier.
Critical reflection is another tool I use in difficult cases as it supports my professional development through assessment of decisions and actions, and it can lead to improvements in patient experiences of care. Although nursing is an intrinsically rewarding job, the consequences of being on the go, sleep deprivation, and constantly adapting to schedule and workflow changes can take a toll on the body.
Participating in regular exercise is another way I keep physically and mentally fit. Exercise increases my overall health and sense of well-being. It relieves stress, improves memory, helps me sleep better, and boosts overall mood (keep those endorphins coming).
AMICA: Do you ever wish for a desk job?
Sarah: NEVER. Sitting down at triage is sometimes too much for me. I like to be up and moving.
AMICA: What is the most common reason for people needing emergency care?
Sarah: Pain. Whether it be from an injury, chronic pain, or acute pain, patients’ primary concern is usually pain. However the thrill of working in the Emergency Department is waiting for the constant unknown. Anything could happen to anyone, at anytime. The unexpected delivery of babies in the car park, burns from lighting friends hair on fire, a person collapsed in the street from unknown arrhythmias, the list is endless.