American television icon Fred Rogers once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Today, many of those helpers are likely to be nurses. However, the question we must ask ourselves is ‘who helps the helpers?’
The emotional impact upon our nursing colleagues working within such highly stressful environments is one we cannot afford to overlook. Nurses working during events such as the 2009 Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires or the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing spoke of the almost overwhelming scenarios they were confronted with. In the midst of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, nurses described how they continued to work after the deaths of their own families and were often faced with the reality of treating their friends and neighbours.
When the urgency of the situation has passed, these nurses need our support. They need to be able to talk about their experiences and debrief with trained professionals. Yet during the recent Ebola epidemic, nurses spoke of feeling ostracised from their communities upon their return home out of fear they might be infected. Health care workers within refugee detention centres have faced legal penalties for discussing the conditions of the people they are helping. In disaster situations, forcing silence, either through not providing an ear to listen or via legal means, can have devastating long term consequences for those involved. As such, we must lend our voices to those of our disaster health nursing colleagues to ensure they are heard and given the support they need.
**Laurie is a regular columnist for the Australian College of Nursing “The Hive” Magazine offering her perspective as an early career nurse. This column was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue ***