They’re the dedicated health workers holding the line against the biggest threat to public health in living memory. Here are just two of their stories.
They’re the dedicated health workers holding the line against the biggest threat to public health in living memory. Here are just two of their stories.

‘The patients are not the only ones scared’

THEY'RE the heroes of our state: the dedicated health workers holding the line against the biggest threat to public health in living memory. Here are just two of their stories in their own words.

DR MATT KHOLO by Ann Sturgess

THE morning routine is always the same: a crumpled pair of hospital scrubs lie on the bathroom floor, together with a pair of R.M. Williams shoes and socks.

They weren't there when I went to bed. I pick them up, like I have done every morning for the last 20 years, and put them in the wash basket.

I will repeat this routine again and again until his time is done.

You don't know me. My name is Ann Sturgess and my husband is a frontline doctor in the fight against COVID-19. This is my story.

To put it bluntly: my Husband is brilliant. He has chosen to use his talents to work at a large public hospital in Brisbane in a low socio-economic area. And no, he doesn't earn a lot of money and, no, he doesn't have a Mercedes.

His car was bought second-hand and is worth about $5000. No wonder he and my father got on so well. But more about that car later.

Dr Matt Kholo with wife Ann Sturgess. Picture: Liam Kidston
Dr Matt Kholo with wife Ann Sturgess. Picture: Liam Kidston

It was never about the money, the status or the like: it was a calling to service, public service. His worth is priceless to those whom he has healed and, on many occasions, saved.

The "call to arms" came a few weeks ago. He now works in the "hot zone" - a dystopian place we only thought existed in movies. Staff are enclosed in PPE (personal protection equipment) treating the sickest of the sick.

Patients are not the only ones scared: staff, many very young, are called upon to cope. My husband also has their safety in his hands. But he has broad shoulders and they will need them.

It's hard to sleep at the hospital overnight, the bed is not yours and the pillow lumpy. Being called at night is a constant. The tiredness pervades. The only good thing about the hot zone, he says, "you'll lose weight because you sweat like mad in those things!".

As things progressed - read worsened - he sat us down and told us it is not if, but when, he gets the virus.

To best protect us he has decided to live somewhere else for 6 months and our contact will only be by phone. This will leave me to continue to work and care for our 5 children, one of whom is in Year 12. We have no choice: it's the sacrifice we will make so you won't catch the virus.

The sight that greets Ann Sturgess every morning. Picture: Liam Kidston
The sight that greets Ann Sturgess every morning. Picture: Liam Kidston

Before we married, my husband and I spent many hours chatting in the kitchen while he cooked vats of his bespoke spaghetti bolognese to take to work.

"Why don't you just buy something?" I would say curiously. His retort was: "There is nothing open after 5pm and, anyway, what is available is mass-produced and you can't live on that." After 20 years of marriage I have understood how important a good meal is to medical staff.

Fast forward to now, and there is an urgent need for something that will save lives and it's easy. More than caps and gowns the staff need really good food to do their best work: not cafe bought, home- cooked nourishing stuff, that only your mum cooks, makes you feel better (even if you are 4 or 40) and tells you someone cares. After hours all there is to eat is junk from vending machines. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic among health workers. I mean, would you eat carrot sticks at 2am when you are starving?

So I put out the call and they came running with their pots and pans: housewives, househusbands, singles and retirees.

Ordinary people desperate to cook their signature dish for health workers. And, most importantly, thrilled to be able to help. My husband describes it thus: "White people in First World countries are not culturally engineered to be confined to their homes and do what they are told.

"Asian culture is much more engineered to be compliant to authority, also to live cheek to jowl.

"I don't think we'll be able to do it, people will rebel".

This accords with the response I received. The respondents were jumping over themselves to help. I could hear people cooking as they were speaking to me such was the enthusiasm. More importantly, it gave people trapped at home somewhere to direct their anxiety. When I took my first delivery to one hospital, the triage nurse burst into tears. It is so simple to do good things.

So the pitch is: if you want to save lives from your kitchen then start cooking and call me. Together we can all do our bit, not in a token way but in a real one. This is one wife of a health worker that will say, in advance, thank you. I dedicate this article to the memory of my late father who, was very frugal with compliments. If he was here, he would say: "Well done, ignore those who ignore you. You're right, they're wrong: go hard till it's done."

Postscript: On Monday, while taking our son driving, George wrote off my husband's car. My husband is now busily trolling Gumtree for another car that costs $5000 so he can get to work. And, just when you thought things could not get worse …

Footnote: Ann Sturgess is the daughter of the late, great Des Sturgess Q.C. who died last year.

Dr Amy Heales and her son Owen. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Dr Amy Heales and her son Owen. Picture: Mark Cranitch



WHEN I got home from work earlier in the week, and my husband asked how my day was, I honestly couldn't describe it.

It doesn't happen often, but I couldn't find the words.

I just said, "It's indescribable."

Later on that night while lying in bed, I thought of the patients I had seen in the day.

My first patient was the manager of a local grocery store.

Stress level through the roof as you can imagine.

I don't know how she was managing to keep it together to be honest.

Next, I saw a young mum with a new bub who told me about what social distancing meant for her.

Basically, she was stuck at home and feeling more isolated than what she already was with a newborn.

Her mothers' group had been cancelled, birthday parties cancelled, she decided it was too risky to go to the shops.

But probably the thing she was most sad about was not visiting her mum and dad.

She wanted to protect her parents from getting sick.

I encouraged her and assured her she was doing the right thing.

I saw three patients with sore throats who were worried about coronavirus.

I told them the risk is low but unfortunately we can't test you.

So you must stay at home until you are well.

Every patient in my day had a story, a worry, a concern... a corona-related question.

The hardest part for me was not being able to answer them all with clear cut answers. Medicine is sometimes black and white, and sometimes medicine is grey.

And this corona thing is well and truly parked in the grey area - for a little while at least.

I'm still not sure how to describe it all, but there are a few things that stand out.

Firstly, how much appreciation I have for my colleagues and workmates.

Thank you to all of these wonderful patients for your kindness and your understanding. It goes a long way and is greatly appreciated.

In this crazy time, when words can't be found to describe how we are all feeling, it was the words from one of my patients on that day that stuck with me.

I said, "I'm so sorry I have to wear a mask today and sit so far away."

And she replied, "Don't worry Dr Heales, we are all in this together."

And I thought, never was a truer word spoken.

Originally published as 'The patients are not the only ones scared'

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