‘I was fighting to catch breath’: Hero nurse’s COVID fight
FROM the frontline of Victoria's coronavirus crisis, to gasping for air in a hospital bed, Gold Coast nurse Topaz Stringfellow has experienced first hand the stark reality of COVID-19.
Now she is warning others to do what they can to keep the vulnerable safe.
A Gold Coast University Hospital immunology nurse, Ms Stringfellow was desperate to help out in any way she could as one of the few Queensland nurses to volunteer at testing clinics in the Melbourne epicentre.
The 26-year-old was healthy, young and eager to step in where others couldn't.
However just a few weeks into the three-month stint down south she discovered that she too had caught the virus.
It was a slight spike in temperature after a long shift that was the first indication of the choking infection to come.
"I actually worked really hard to go to Victoria, I heard they were going to deploy nurses and I think I harassed almost every executive to allow me to go … which very graciously they did," she said.
"I admit I was nervous when I did get the call up, but I thought it is better me than anyone else. It's not just about protecting me it is about protecting the wider community, people in nursing homes, people like my mum with chronic health conditions.
"I was aware of the risks, I was informed, and statistically I still thought I would be better off than others."
On July 1 she travelled to Melbourne with fellow volunteer nurse Rachel Galuzen-Meakins and was deployed in the city's north manning testing clinics and working in some of the worst infected clusters.
The two worked as an isolated team, travelling together in a single car to each site.
The pair worked 8-9 hour shifts in full personal protective gear testing a few hundred people a day.
"I was nervous about what we were walking into, the situation had only just started to escalate there. We knew we would be going into hot spots," Ms Stringfellow said.
"There were different clusters that would emerge whether that be suburbs or housing towers, as having large amounts of cases," she said.
Despite taking every step to avoid contracting the virus, Ms Stringfellow noticed her temperature had jumped when leaving the hospital one evening.
"The infra-red camera picked up my temperature was 37.5c which isn't technically a fever, but for me it is warmer than I normally am," she said.
"I thought it could have been from being hot and sweaty in my PPE for hours, but I wanted to be sure."
Being conscious of just how vicious the disease could be, she immediately went into isolation asking for a thermometer to be dropped outside of her hotel room door.
That night her fears were confirmed as symptoms worsened, days later a test returned a positive.
"The temp spooked me so I isolated straight away," she said.
"Then it got worse, for the first three to four days I had extreme fatigue, I could be awake for an hour then sleep for three. I had fevers I couldn't shake."
At that point the Queensland Government made the decision to transfer Ms Stringfellow and her colleague to the Gold Coast, as part of a life flight on August 1.
While Ms Galuzen-Meakins also returned to Queensland the same day, she did not contract the disease.
Ms Stringfellow said she believes this is because both nurses followed strict protocols during their time travelling together.
Back in the care of her colleagues, Ms Stringfellow was monitored for five days as she battled the virus.
"I would just be walking from my bed to the bathroom and I would have to stop and really catch my breath, it felt like I was fighting just to catch it.
"I thought that if I did get sick that it would probably be a mild illness, but it was more than that for me.
"It just shows it can happen to anyone."
Still keen to help with the pandemic the passionate nurse volunteered to take part in the convalescent plasma trial while she was unwell, to help find a possible cure.
"Well you just do anything you can, I may be sick but I am still a nurse."
Despite what she endured, Ms Stringfellow has made a full recovery and is back at work following a stint in hospital and then isolation.
"I would go back down to help if they, or my family would let me," she said.
"For me what I want to drive home is that I was young, I chose to go and got a lot sicker than I thought I would.
"This isn't about you getting unwell, it is about your grandmother at home, your parents, it can and does happen. We need to protect the vulnerable, do what we can to keep them safe.
"I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
Originally published as 'I was fighting to catch my breath': Hero nurse's COVID battle