Empathy, opinion and dedication to dignity

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Deborah Maxwell-Wright is a modern woman. With almost half a century of nursing behind her, an incredibly close family with three daughters and soon-to-be-six grandchildren, this strong independent Mount Eliza resident has lived a life of caring for others and has loved every moment of it. She’s been there at the end of patients’ lives and supported their families through thick and thin. She’s bandaged footy players in outback Queensland while mozzies munched her legs and has paced the wards of Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital when psychological support for sex-change patients was practically non-existent.

She’s also fractured and crushed her fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth vertebrae.

She explains: “That was in 2001. I fell down a concrete staircase at work but was back on the job within six weeks. I was 16 years old when I became a nurse. It was a real calling back then for me and most of the girls who went into it had a passion for it. I always had empathy and compassion as a child and I loved to organise things. I grew up in Strathmore, went to St Columba’s College in Essendon and did my nursing training at the Sacred Heart Hospital built by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart — now called the John Fawkner Private Hospital — in Coburg. You did your preliminary training for six weeks in a classroom and then you were thrown straight into the hospital and had to learn very quickly. I felt lucky to get my training in hospital. You were put in charge at the end of your third year and had to sink or swim. We were moved from ward to ward and got all kinds of experience.”

Deborah doesn’t mix words. She’s been incredibly vocal about the government’s reduction of nurse-to-patient ratios and has been walked off her job and sacked because of her protests. She continues: “It’s appalling, really. I spent the last 12 years of my nursing career in aged care. This is the time of someone’s life when they should be treated with dignity and kindness. How can one nurse look after eight or nine patients properly? People at the end of their life deserve the very best care, not the worst care. Aged care is a very hard job for nurses, physically and mentally. They get to know their patients well and then one day they have to come to work and those people they have built relationships with are no longer there.”

With 49 years of nursing under her belt, Deborah is now looking forward to spending more time with her family and friends, but she’s got plenty of fond memories and community-minded projects to keep her occupied. “I’ve been privileged to be a nurse and be part of so many people’s lives. I moved to the Peninsula in 1977 and have worked in surgical theatres and wards from St Vincent’s Hospital to the old Queen Victoria Hospital, Preston Hospital, Frankston Hospital and Peninsula Private. I remember this one young woman in oncology and being with her family by her side whilst she was dying, including her children. She was at the end of her life and we played the song Brown Eyed Girl. What an honour. Nursing has given me so much. I’ve just taken my long-service leave and travelled to Italy, Budapest and Croatia, which was lovely, but I think I’ll be needing to do something else soon.”

And her advice for nurses just starting out? “Just focus on one patient at a time. Try to be a good and caring nurse. I know I have done my best to be the best nurse I can be. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a wonderfully rewarding career for me.”

Now that’s what I call modern. 


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