Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


Tasmania: Health Care

9:18 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In late June this year I received an email from a constituent on the north-west coast of Tassie. What I want to do—it's quite bizarre—is read her email out. She wrote to me after an experience with a number of paramedics and a number of doctors. She wanted to somehow express her gratitude to those people for the support they had given her, and she didn't know how to do it. So I wrote back to her and I said, 'I'm very happy to raise that matter through the Senate and give those people the recognition that they absolutely deserve.' The subject in her email line was, 'A heart song story in a time of COVID-19.'

She said: 'Two weeks ago I survived a massive heart attack and within two hours was treated by two paramedics and a cardiac nurse at my home in Latrobe. I said my goodbyes to my 17-year-old son in case it was a forever goodbye. Then to the Mersey Community Hospital and back into the ambulance, rushed to Launceston General Hospital. I had a stent inserted into an artery which was 100 per cent blocked. They saved my life, and today my son sits his last year 12 midyear exam. The reason it was so significant is that I have complex PTSD, severe depressive disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, body dysmorphia and agoraphobia. I have rarely left my house in 2½ years. Being in lockdown was easy for me. Three days in hospital should have had me reeling, but it didn't.

'In fact, these amazing people, from the paramedics at my home to the nurse who walked me out, helped me with more than just my heart health. They have given me hope that there can and will be a new chapter in my life, that there will be another heart song to a life of many experiences and traumas but now with a lighter heart and thirst for life that has long since left me. They are miracle workers, and I need your assistance in acknowledging these paramedics and emergency personnel at Mersey Community Hospital and Launceston General Hospital's coronary care unit and pharmacy. I would appreciate that they receive a letter of recognition, an award or a bouquet for the work that they do, particularly when they're in a new physical premises due to COVID-19. They also operate as a day procedure unit, the feet on the ground at the front line, the givers and the selfless helpers of our Tasmanian health system.'

Lara then goes on to address the letter to the magical staff at the LGH coronary care unit. This is to those people at the coronary care unit and in the paramedic family back home in Tassie: 'Thank you for keeping me alive. My son still has his mother, my parents still have their daughter, my sister still has her sister and now I have hope. You're all special people with skills like superpowers. I'd give you all a medallion of honour if I could for your kindness, compassion, humility and humour. You truly cared for the whole of me, and holistic care is the best care. I wasn't a patient; I was a human being. It takes unique gifts to do the work you do. I am ever so grateful.

'Not only were you dealing with my heart issues but my mental health issues, which are severe, but I felt so safe and secure in your presence that my usual fear of strangers, being anywhere outside my home and countless doctors after five years of treatment for my mental health. My workplace accident may have robbed me of my teaching career, but the other symptoms have brought my life to a plateau of being merely functional. My only job was being a great mother and keeping our world turning. Then my heart stopped working, and you cured it. And, in curing my heart, you reminded me to treasure my life, that I can still laugh and joke. I can listen. I can empathise. I felt at peace. I felt normal for the first time in five years.

'The team in particular are the two nameless paramedics and the cardiac nurse who attended my home on Wednesday 10 June 2020, the emergency room team at Mersey Community Hospital and the paramedics who got me to Launceston so quickly. Within the coronary care unit, I specifically remember my main nurses: Di, Robin-Anne, Mishy, Paul and John. If I have forgotten someone, my apologies. Dr John Esho, Dr Raj and, of course, Dr Herman. Doctors, in my experience, are often cold and clinical. Not the doctors in this unit. No blame. Kindness and acceptance, heartfelt advice and a sense of humour that is so important in a place which is so serious. Each of these doctors is amazing. They're among the best I've experienced, having lived in three states and overseas, in private and public hospitals.

'My nurses were funny and sweet, serious and helpful. The most important gift they gave me was my voice. I started to talk, to relax and to accept help—even the smallest thing, like making a cup of tea in a China cup, sitting with me for a few minutes to and reassuring me that I would recover. Without question the most knowledgeable, inspiring and lovely nurses to ever have cared for me.

'I was never made to feel guilty or that my life choices and family history had caused the heart attack. I deeply appreciate that, as I was punishing myself on the inside. Now I feel, after the last five years of deep trauma, surviving family violence, raising a son solo, smoking on and off for 30 years and a family history, my heart simply broke. It had sung all the stories it could, had felt as much pain as it could and loved more than it should, but your team provided the jump start it needed because they are a team of excellence, of honesty, professional, highly educated and perceptive, vigilance, being human, a calm in the storm of day-procedures, humour, advice with a cup of tea, compassion, education, patience—greatly assisted by the package provided by Di—diversity of backgrounds and experience, kindness, humility and laughter. When I got home and had a question, I simply rang and my panic subsided as I was advised on my question. I start rehabilitation on Monday.

'My new heart is stronger and it was laid with the best foundations in the critical care that I received. We are all ordinary people but with a little extra heart and soul, spirit and determination we become extraordinary individuals. My deepest gratitude. Kind regards, Lara Watchman.'

I wrote to Lara, as I said, and indicated to her that I was prepared to share her story, to have it recognised and to make sure that we recognise these heroes within our medical system, which is pulled to pieces in Tasmania. The paramedics, who suffer so much with their own mental health issues, often don't get recognised. When I wrote to her, she came back to me and said, 'Thank you for your kind words and well wishes, but more importantly thank you that my everyday heroes will be acknowledged.' I think it's important that we do that. So for Lara and for the people at both the Mersey Community Hospital and the Launceston General Hospital to the fantastic nurses and the fantastic paramedics, who keep our health system together: I also say thank you very much.