Reflections of an essential worker – time, space, privilege, gratitude

Kia ora koutou whanau. 

Times have changed.  They always do, but this time it’s been sudden, dramatic and sometimes frightening. 

Before the lockdown, I was employed 3 days a week at a GP practice in Hamilton as a pharmacist prescriber managing patients with high blood pressure and other long term conditions and worked from home 2 days a week on the local housing project, teaching WINTEC tutorials online and other voluntary community projects. 


Overnight, due to reduction in all staff at the GP practice down to a skeleton crew, I found myself driving to Hamilton only one day a week, eerily alone in the early morning as dawn breaks, with lots of time to reflect on how things have changed.


Time is different, days at work are busier with 99% of consultations happening over the phone. Engaging with empathy means taking cues from subtle changes in the tone of voice rather than watching for visual signs. Being unable to offer a box of tissues when things just got tough feels hard. And then there is the relief you can hear, that someone from the clinic has rung, a moment to talk, a chance to share worries and get some guidance.


Two weeks prior to lockdown, everyone tensed at the sound of a cough or sneeze. That tension has gone. The waiting rooms and carparks are empty, the lunchroom quiet, almost desolate, no busy shared lunches. Door handles and keyboards have never been cleaner. Masks and gloves are normal.

Time seems elongated and rhythms have changed. The rushing and juggling of home, work, family, friends and study has slowed. It feels important to take long walks by the water, especially in the evening to download, process, enjoy the space, the dusk skies morphing colours into emerging stars.


I’m grateful, so grateful to live in Whaingaroa right now. Thankful for the work I do have left, and that with the luck of being late comers to COVID 19 combined with strong,thoughtful leadership, we are better off than many in the world. Grateful that all those I am close to are COVID free, and grateful for the sharing, the neighbourhood driveway conversations and the preparedness we all have to help each other. So thankful for our amazing supermarket staff for all their long hours and endurance on our behalf.


I feel privileged to be one of those during Level 4 to legitimately be able to take the drive to Hamilton and back. Gone are the days of multi-tasking, hands free conversations, mental juggling of tasks for the day or weeks to come – there is a calm appreciation of every kilometre, every new view savoured, digested in wonder. A fully conscious drive, alone – no other traffic, no oncoming head lights, no pressure to keep up with the flow. The only other vehicles on the road are food delivery trucks. 


I have reflected on how good it is to work at a time like this, to have what I do, be considered ‘essential’, enabling me that privilege of moving outside my bubble, without feeling guilty that I’m ‘breaking the rules’. I also know that when the lockdown is over, I will be changed, and I am determined to bring my appreciation for the simple joys of sunrise over Waikato misted valleys, and the sunset behind Karioi from the top of the divvy with me into the new world order we will all help build anew.

Fiona McNabb

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