Nathan Havlin, 33, served in Afghanistan is now an Emergency Department nurse at St Vincents Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards
Nathan Havlin, 33, served in Afghanistan is now an Emergency Department nurse at St Vincents Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards

The Anzac heroes serving in the fight against COVID-19

Simon Hendel never thought he would use the same mindset he gained in war-ravaged Afghanistan at a Melbourne hospital.

But that is exactly what the 36-year-old anaesthetist has been doing alongside his colleagues at The Alfred as they battle the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I think there are a lot of parallels with the type of planning and preparedness and the mindset you need to be effective for this type of pandemic response - the type of mindset is very similar to what you have to take into a war zone."

Simon Hendel served in Afghanistan and is now an anesthetist at the Alfred Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards
Simon Hendel served in Afghanistan and is now an anesthetist at the Alfred Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

Mr Hendel was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with the Australian Army's Special Operations Task Group where as a regimental medical officer he led a small healthcare team choppered into conflict zones to rescue and treat wounded ­soldiers.

"In no other environment would I be exposed to that intensity of work," he said.

"The type of training and the type of mindset you have with the teams you work with prepares you well for unpredictable, potentially chaotic and potentially high-risk environments."

The COVID-19 crisis has meant he has once again been at the frontline - of a very different battle.

 

Simon Hendel served at The AlfredhHospital. Picture: Jason Edwards
Simon Hendel served at The AlfredhHospital. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

"For Australians they have been participating (alongside) health workers," Mr Hendel said. "Perhaps this is the first time Australians at large have had to understand the really important role they play in preventing a conflict from an unknown, unseen enemy from taking hold."

Nathan Havlin, 33, is a captain with the Australian Army Reservists, who swapped Melbourne for Kabul in 2016 where he worked in the equivalent of a local GP for hundreds of soldiers.

It was like another world compared to Melbourne - largely forced indoors due to ever present threats of attack.

"It was an opportunity to put some of the clinical skills I leaned here at St Vincent's into practice in a remote area with limited resources where you have to adapt and think outside the box," he said.

 

 

Nathan Havlin, 33, served in Afghanistan is now an Emergency Department nurse at St Vincents Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards
Nathan Havlin, 33, served in Afghanistan is now an Emergency Department nurse at St Vincents Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

The same thing that motivated Mr Havlin to serve in the army keeps him coming back to his current role as a nurse practitioner candidate.

"It's a little bit of giving back to your nation," he said. "I have always wanted to work in remote, austere locations. I can't think of a more austere location than a war zone."

Mr Havlin said the skills he learned in Kabul were useful as he and colleagues prepared for what was projected to be a devastating number of seriously ill patients.

"You become a bit more flexible and adaptable I think and certainly that's come into its own of late with COVID," he said. "It's a different way of thinking and planning and anticipating something we haven't had before."

Carolyn Griffiths has served her country in multiple war zones, and now she is fighting on the frontline of a different kind - saving the lives of patients with COVID-19.

 

RAAF Reservist and Squadron leader Caroline Griffiths, pictured with her nursing team Mitch Gant, Kim Northey, Braddon Cummins and Nyasha Gwanzura, now works in the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Picture: Lachie Millard
RAAF Reservist and Squadron leader Caroline Griffiths, pictured with her nursing team Mitch Gant, Kim Northey, Braddon Cummins and Nyasha Gwanzura, now works in the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Picture: Lachie Millard

 

The Royal Australian Air Force reservist squadron leader has been deployed to Iraq twice, Afghanistan and Pakistan and is currently an intensive care nurse. Ms Griffith has treated hundreds of patients a day with significant battle-wounds and worked under the pressure of bombs going off, but said COVID-19 was a unique pandemic.

"Mentally with COVID-19, when I first saw the younger ones it was a bit daunting and confronting and I guess it's the same when you go to war and you see the younger ones hurt.

"Anybody hurt is quite confronting initially," she said.

"They (COVID-19 patients) are very, very sick initially - the big difference I've found is while I was deployed, particularly in Iraq, our beds are very close together, and we work very closely together and with the COVID patients we're very isolated."

andrew.koubaridis@news.com.au

Originally published as The Anzac heroes serving in the fight against COVID-19



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