Peering through the tiny window of a hospital ward, Caitie Scott says goodbye to her mother whom she no idea when she will see again.
Unable to show a smile behind her mask and face shield, the young nurse holds up two gloved hands to show her she is OK.
Tears stream down her mother Sue Scott’s face, but her daughter must desperately hold back her own for fear of having to touch her face.
Ms Scott, 27, has volunteered to work in the coronavirus ward of Knox Private Hospital in Melbourne, surrounded by pain, death and loneliness.
‘Seeing me in full PPE, through a locked door that’s been sealed with hazard tape, was all too much. She is proud of me, but she is scared,’ she said.
‘I want to rip off my gown and mask, jump through the door and hug her to make her feel better.
‘Instead, I put my hand to the glass and she does the same as more tears roll down her face.’
Every day since she has run between seriously ill elderly patients evacuated from aged care homes across virus-ridden Victoria.
Ms Scott knows that though she will see her family again when the crisis is over, many of her patients never will.
‘For some of the people I’m caring for, they haven’t physically seen or touched a family member since February, and some may not get that chance again,’ she said.
‘These people have been kept isolated in their rooms for months, they’ve only seen masks and gowns, only touched gloves, and only heard their loved ones voices through devices for a few minutes a day.
‘It’s heartbreaking to hold their hand while they cry and see their daily struggle, so I won’t shed a tear for my situation, because in this PPE I can’t even shed a tear for theirs.’
Ms Scott can’t understand why some Victorians complain about having to wear a mask to the shops when she spends her entire day in a proverbial suit of armour.
The bright yellow plastic gowns over her scrubs make the ward feel like a sauna and the sweat make them stick to her exposed skin.
After just a few days she had pressure sores between her thumbs and index fingers because the gloves don’t fit properly.
The rest of her hands are raw from vigorously washing her hands and applying hand sanitiser after every patient.
But even the extreme discomfort of wearing the full-body PPE is better than the alternative.
‘As soon as you take one gown off after being with a patient, you’re not comfortable again until you’ve put a fresh gown back on and feel protected again,’ she said.
‘The N95 masks are claustrophobic, cutting into our skin and giving us pressure sores on our noses, cheeks and ears, rashes on our faces, yet we pull them tighter because they’re our saving us from the same fate as our patients.
‘We see each other hurting yet we don’t complain, one look at our patients and we don’t feel any of our own pain anymore.
‘So please, don’t complain about those soft masks across your face that you wear for 30 minutes when grocery shopping, and cherish the time at home knowing the air you breathe is clean.’
Other medical workers in Melbourne, where a record 19 patients died on Monday, have also told of the toll PPE takes on their bodies and pleaded with the public to wear masks.
Royal Melbourne emergency nurse Abbey Fistrovic said the public were as much on the front line of the battle against coronavirus as health workers.
‘I just saw our numbers which are up again and it’s disheartening because I have the mask pushing all over my face and just being highly uncomfortable and [I’m] just thinking, when is this ever going to end?’ she said.
Another Royal Melbourne emergency department nurse Mel Pearson said health workers were dehydrated because the industrial-grade N95 masks and face shields cannot be removed at all while working.
Despite all these precautions, more than 1,000 of Victoria’s more than 8,000 active cases are medical workers infected on the front lines.
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, who works at a COVID-19 testing clinic in Melbourne, blames a lack of personal protective equipment for the high rate of infection.
‘It’s a really dire situation, since this whole crisis started we were calling out for good access to good protective equipment – that means masks, that means gowns, that means gloves,’ he told the Today show on Monday
‘The problem is, it’s very patchy.’
Dr Haikerwal said some clinics and treatment centres were relying on donated PPE to have enough for all the staff to stay safe.
Australian College of Nursing chief executive Kylie Ward told the ABC many nurses were scared as they weren’t able to access the equipment when they needed it.
‘One of the things I am hearing is the level of guilt because they don’t feel like they are doing enough even though they are the spirit of Australia and doing an incredible job, it’s the burden that we place upon ourselves in a life of choosing to be a nurse and a life of service.’
A Melbourne nurse who contracted the virus claimed she repeatedly asked the hospital for an N95 mask but was given a surgical mask and a plastic face shield instead.
She was told an N95 mask was unnecessary and feels her health was compromised because she wasn’t given adequate safety equipment.