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When Nurse Gino Ballentos finishes his shift on the COVID ward, 7 East, he carefully leaves the clothes he’s been wearing that day in a bucket outside his home.
“Any COVID clothes sit there until I can wash my clothes again,” he says.
“Everyone has a change of clothes after doffing PPE as there’s the anxiety of bringing COVID home to your family.”
There are 18 COVID beds on ward 7 East which are all full, and shifts are long and exhausting for staff.
It involves regular observations of patients – including an hourly check of their vital signs – as well as blood tests, giving medication and assisting with bed washes and showers.
Gino regularly has a dry mouth and nose from wearing a face mask for eight hours and suffers numbness and pressure injuries across his nose and cheeks from the mask and face shield.
Wearing PPE is hot, sweaty and uncomfortable and it can make small tasks – such as taking a blood test – incredibly difficult.
Despite all of this, however, it’s nothing compared to what the patients are suffering, with some so unwell they’re bed bound and can’t get up to walk to the toilet.
Gino says staff had a choice about whether they returned to the COVID ward this year and after six months working on 7 East in 2020, he felt it was his duty.
“When we closed the COVID ward last year I thought that would be the end of COVID, and with the vaccine rolling out I thought that we’d done our job, but this time it’s worse I reckon,” he says.
“People in their 30s are coming in and it’s scary, but we pull our sleeves up, do the work and try to be positive.
“It’s hard when a lot of your colleagues are stressed. The numbers are getting higher and our vaccination percentage is pretty slow.”
Gino’s message for the community is simple – get vaccinated.
“Do your own research into vaccination and don’t rely on what’s on social media,” he says.
“You don’t want to end up in here unwell and not be able to see family or friends.
"It’s not a place you want to be.”