Claudia* became a nurse to help others. 21-years-old, fresh out of her degree and completing her first year of on-the-job training in Christchurch, her dream is to provide the same, high standard of care that she received when in and out of hospital as a child.  

Claudia started her placement as a managed isolation and quarantine nurse in a hotel in August. She looks after both guests who have and don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, and loves doing her part to keep the virus out of Aotearoa and help returning Kiwis settle back in.

Although many guests have travelled from the other side of the world and through one or two other overseas quarantine facilities before they reach her care, Claudia says they’ve been nothing but thankful to her and grateful to be back in New Zealand.

Surprisingly, it’s been the people in Claudia’s personal life that haven’t been so happy to have her around.

Social isolation

The first time she felt socially excluded was by a family friend at her grandparents’ house. She had told her grandparents about her new job, and they invited her over for a socially-distanced update. A visiting family friend wasn’t so happy to see her.

“He said, ‘What are you doing, coming and seeing your grandparents?’

“That really knocked me back, because my grandparents know and are proud of what I do,” she says.

“They don’t see it as a risk as they know we get tested every week, have plenty of PPE [protective gear] and are all following the same, correct guidelines for social distancing.

“His comments really made me feel like I wasn’t welcome at my grandparents’ any more.”

Claudia and her boyfriend Mark’s* shared friend group was next. When they found out about Claudia’s new job, they stopped asking both her and Mark out to spend time together.

“One of my friends said, ‘what are you doing in the community with your job? You shouldn’t be out here, you should be staying at home.’

“It makes me feel bad that he’s [Mark’s] missing out on a social life as well because of it. He said to me the other week that it’s actually starting to affect our relationship.

“It’s got to the point where I don’t want to tell anyone where I work anymore. It makes me feel like I’m a walking virus.”

Stories in the media

Claudia says media stories about positive cases in the community “didn’t exactly help the situation” because they don’t tell the full picture about the extraordinary measures taken to ensure staff at isolation facilities are kept safe from COVID-19.

She remembers a recent story where a man who had stayed in Christchurch tested positive once he had travelled up North.

“After seeing the story, one of my friends said, ‘oh well you could have COVID, even though you’re being tested all the time, you could [still] have it.’

“My workplace’s procedures are really well-controlled and co-ordinated. Guests are only allowed out of their rooms to exercise, and have to wear masks and social distance when they do.

“If there was a community outbreak, I would feel much more unsafe out in public than I do at my workplace.”

The importance of āwhina

Some of her fellow nurses and their families have faced similar bullying behaviour. One colleague recently ticked ‘yes’ to working in an isolation facility when she took her child to the hospital, and told Claudia the staff “physically stepped away from her”.

“It made her feel, ‘what’s wrong with me?’

“This isolating behaviour doesn’t just impact our lives - it impacts our families.”

Claudia and her colleagues feel that being called ‘COVID nurses’ doesn’t help the situation. The term ‘COVID’ carries a lot of stigma.

They’d like to be called the ‘Āwhina nurses’. In te reo Māori, ‘āwhina’ means supporting, assisting or benefiting others – exactly what these healthcare heroes do every day.  

“Being called ‘COVID nurses’ in itself feels like a put-down,” she says.

“We’re only doing our job to protect and keep COVID-19 out of our community.”

On a more personal note, Claudia wants people to “be more inclusive” towards nurses like her. Support from her mum, brother, grandparents and boyfriend has really helped her deal with the bullying behaviour she has experienced - but having one of her friends speak up for her or continue to include her and Mark in social events would have made all the difference.

She says even receiving some words and messages of support – so that she knew her friends were on her side – would have been really helpful.

Want to end bullying behaviour towards nurses on the frontline? Find some more Upstander tips on how to fight social exclusion here.

*Names have been changed

Claudia sq

“Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!”