Hopeless and helpless. That’s how Elsa felt as she witnessed the devastation of the earthquake in Nepal.
It was April 2015 and Elsa was in Nepal for the last few weeks of a world trip. The now Melbourne-based nurse had been away from her family in Norway for ten months and on the day the quake struck she was shopping for equipment as she prepared to take a three-week solo mountain hike.
The earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people and injured more than 21,000. Elsa was in Pokhara, a popular stop for tourists that escaped the major impact of the quake. But she remembers feeling helpless as local authorities appealed for nurses and doctors to help the wounded in the outlying villages and communities.
“I badly wanted to help but they needed medical staff or really good climbers – and I was neither. I realised then that if I’d done my nursing degree by then I could have helped more. So when I got home a few weeks later I applied to study nursing. That experience in Nepal gave me the push I needed,” says Elsa, 31.
“I remember feeling so hopeless and helpless because there was nothing I could do. I had to wait for another week before I could leave Nepal because there were aftershocks and the roads to Kathmandu were broken. People were very stressed and scared and sleeping outside at night for safety – there’s nothing like the ground shaking and feeling like it will disappear from underneath you.”
Elsa was born in a small coastal town in Norway and while she liked ‘arty’ subjects, nursing was on her radar as a career from early in high school. She did an undergraduate degree in Psychology and then spent six years travelling and working in the health sector before the trip to Nepal that changed her life. She worked with disability clients and in home care and mental health.
“I enjoyed being able to help my patients and clients and I saw how even a tiny bit of help could make their day better. That’s why nursing appealed to me – you can see the impact you are having on someone quite quickly.”
Elsa decided to move to Melbourne to do the two-year intensive Master of Nursing program and is in her final year. She chose the University of Melbourne because of the fast-tracked course and because she was ready to start her career as a nurse as soon as possible. Elsa’s goal is to be a psychiatric nurse.
She has enjoyed placements at major hospitals around Melbourne but says her mental health placement as Austin Health was a highlight.
“Nursing is all about the relationship you can build with a patient and as a mental health nurse, that is your primary focus, and that suits my personality. I enjoy building a rapport,” she says.
Elsa will be working in mental health in a Melbourne hospital next year, after she graduates. But before that she is returning to Nepal for two weeks in October. The placement is organised through the University of Melbourne.
“I always wanted to go back to Nepal to give something back – because I couldn’t do that last time. I’ll be setting up a clinic in a village in the mountains with a local doctor and people will come to us from the surrounding areas,” says Elsa.
“I’ll be doing basic things like educating people about hygiene and hand hygiene and helping them manage illnesses such as diabetes. Working with a different culture and people with different views on health will be interesting.
“I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve always been happy with how I left a country. Nepal was the first place I left and I didn’t have a good feeling. Being able to go back and to contribute a little is going to be amazing.”
And Elsa is also organising a wedding. In late November, she will marry the Melbourne man she met five years ago while travelling in Cambodia.
“To be honest, my partner is doing most of the organising because I am too busy!” she says.
“We met travelling years ago and stayed in touch. We were friends when I decided to come to Melbourne to study but within a week of me moving here we both realised that what we have together just works.”
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