Pamela Rawle has been the nurse unit manager in paediatrics at Wagga Base Hospital since 2001 and has devoted her professional life to the care of children.
How did you come to specialise in paediatrics?
I’ve always loved children. I came from a family where I used to have to help with the little children, so I’ve always had a real passion for children and when I started nursing, and I went to the Camperdown Children’s Hospital, I just absolutely loved it and I decided that would be my focus.
You must have a lot of different stories, happy and sad. What are some of the funnier moments?
Most of it is to do with the staff and the fun we have. Being a paediatric unit, we really have a happier ward. The staff are just absolutely fantastic and we do have a good laugh, and the children are funny too. You just love some of their ways.
I can't think of anything in particular, but it’s just so important to be more light-hearted on a paediatric unit, I think.
There must be moments, though, when it still gets you in the gut a little bit?
Of course. Nearly every day when you see the little ones coming in, and they may only have something like bronchiolitis, which is just a chest infection for adults, but for a child it can be really bad. They’re sort of drowning in their secretions and that’s very hard, when you see the little ones really struggling.
Also, there are children who have cancer and are on treatment. That’s very gut-wrenching because it impacts on the families so much. It’s not just the child.
We get very attached to our children. We are really lucky. We do not have many deaths in the paediatric unit, but we still see the struggles of families as they suffer with their children.
The flip side of that must be the most extraordinary feeling when you get to send them home?
You see the child come in and they are unwell, and then you send them home well. They are not malingerers. Children are either well or they are unwell. They don’t just lie around and enjoy the attention. They are not like that.
So we try and keep our children in as short a length of time as possible because they’re better off at home. So yes, we do, we have lots of good times waving children goodbye. For them to leave the hospital when it hasn’t been as traumatic as they thought it might be, then they are really quite happy.
And you have such a range too, don’t you? From newborns up to teenagers.
We do get a lot of children as soon they as can’t go back to maternity. If they still have a paediatrician and live at home, we will have them up until 17.
But, mental health is a really big issue we see happening now. So many of the children – young adolescents, young people – who come in with mental health issues now. Obesity is the other thing. And this is really changing that I’ve noticed from when I started in paediatrics up until now.
The length of stay is amazing. We keep them in as little as possible. I remember with asthma – we didn’t have the treatments then – and children would stay in the hospital for days, until they didn't have a cough any more. Now, we send them home as quickly as we can. So it’s quite interesting seeing the changes in care that have come over the years.
It must be wonderful too to walk through the corridors of this new unit, compared to the children’s ward in the old red brick building.
I’m so pleased that in my lifetime, we have got this new hospital. We did good work in the old hospital. We nursed a lot of children there and it was interesting because grandparents would be coming in and they would say ‘I can’t believe this because I was here as a child and I had my tonsils out’, so it has lots of history, lots of memories for lots of people, but this (new ward) is so good for families.
It has been built for families. It is so much easier for them. There is more space. It just looks prettier and I think that just gives confidence to families too, It shouldn’t because the nursing staff is the same. We still do the same good nursing, but it just makes such a difference to have a lovely place.
It must be also rewarding to see the advances in treatment.
This is the thing you reflect on so many times is that I remember how we used to do things and how much better it is now, and less traumatic for children. Even here in Wagga, from when I first came to now, we hardly send any children to Sydney any more because we can do the same good service here, the same good care that you can in Sydney because we have got the equipment. The equipment has been funded by the community, so we can provide the good care we have here.
Are you noticing an increase in allergies in children, or is that just what people in the general community assume?
There are a lot more allergies. One of our doctors, Dr Pitts, is doing her immunology course and will be setting up in Wagga, which means children won’t have to go to Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne. So many of them have to wait 18 months to two years to have testing, but because she’ll be here, we’ll do testing here.
When you leave here, what do you like to do?
Everybody laughs because I love to cook. As soon as I get home, I don’t even get out of my uniform, I get everything out and I chop and take all my stress on the poor vegetables or the meat or whatever, and that’s a great joy to me.
When I can’t sleep at night, I think about recipes that I can cook, which calms me down.