At a time when he needed it, Nick Earls found comfort in St Andrew’s compassionate care.


Nick Earls speaking on a microphone

Nick Earls, author and patient, knew that his second experience with open-heart surgery would be different. He knew he was in good hands in the cardio-thoracic ward 2F at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital.

This father and author, with a book to promote, was once dubbed ‘Brisbane’s favourite son’ by the Courier Mail. After 25 years, 27 books, two film adaptations, five stage plays and numerous writing awards later, he still is. Sadly though, he is no stranger to heart surgery but never before has he had to experience it during a pandemic.

“When you’re having something done on that scale, there’s comfort to be had in knowing you’re going somewhere that does it well and with care. This attentionto how you’re treated feels as if it counts even more when your surgery is unavoidably happening during Covid times, with no visitors, and staff masked all the time”, says a grateful Nick.

St Andrew’s, goes above-and-beyond to support people like Nick in their time of need. But the COVID crisis has challenged our frontline teams and resources like never before.

Nick is grateful that the team at St Andrew’s were there for him when he needed his surgery. But that didn’t make it any less frightening when he woke up in ICU afterwards.

“I’ve never seen my principal surgeon without a mask. He’s spent hours in my chest, but I’ve never seen his face. Nor have I seen my nurses, my physios, the people who wheeled me around and brought my meals. But the kindness came through.” – remembers Nick.

Margot and Cathy have worked at St Andrew’s for 31 years, each. They are two of the nurses in Ward 2F, post ICU who cared for Nick until his discharge. Their care and compassion in difficult conditions is what helped Nick get through and on the road to recovery.
Cathy and Margot
“It is hard enough physically and emotionally going through major heart surgery but when there is a lockdown’ PPE, no face to face contact with your family, a hug or a kiss the challenges can be overwhelming for the patients” says Margot.

That’s why our wonderful nurses step up to be there for patients like Nick, particularly since COVID-19 restrictions have kept more people apart this year.

Cardiac surgery and recovery is never easy – and even harder when you have to go through it without the people you love.

“Nick was tech savvy so I remember him face timing family so we tried to limit interrupting during these times as we would with visitors in the room”, remembers Cathy.

During his recovery the team at St Andrew’s were at Nick’s side. Hour by hour, day by day, helping to move him forward. One after another, the tubes came out, the wires came out, and he was edged along with a reassuring confidence.

“They were always calm, always on top of their game, always making sure my questions were answered, my needs met and my slow laps of the ward acknowledged. They kept me feeling busy, productive, focused on getting better”, says Nick.

Nick Earls taking a selfie on his way to recovery

Many of our cardiac patients here at St Andrew’s are in need of acute care. They may be recovering from major surgeries like Nick’s. Others may have become very sick after relapsing.

Sadly, the last two years of lockdowns and disruptions have taken their toll on many of our frontline staff. As Margot explains:

“With PPE it is often hard for patients to understand, hear you, read your facial expression and this can often hinder communication and increase their anxiety.   It is at this time that we as nurses have to be more empathetic towards them and acknowledge, understand and respect their frustrations, and often their feeling of loneliness and realise that sometimes we are their only source of contact day and night”.

“We have to allow time to listen and spend time with patients and encourage an open line of communication to give them comfort. A touch on the arm, a nod of the head to show we are listening and engaged in what they are telling us, and the good old cuppa often goes a long way to decreasing their anxiety and making their stay with us less stressful”, says Margot. 

Your kind gift will help someone who will need to have open heart surgery next year. They might be someone in your community - a friend or a neighbour, or a father like Nick. It will help them to received the compassionate care you would want.

Thanks to the care and dedication of his team, Nick recovered faster than expected.

“I worked hard at rehab and, two months later, I was bushwalking again. A month after that, I was back jogging. Some of the determination to get there was already in me, but the team at St Andrew’s focused it and gave me milestones to aim for. They helped my confidence. They helped get me back from a pretty serious situation to regular life, even if they had to do it mask-to-mask, rather than face-to-face.”

Nick is back bushwalking again

Nick survived his surgery. What’s more, he has recovered and recovered well so that he can get back to his ‘regular’ life. As Nick looked forward to Christmas with the family, he feels very grateful for the exceptional care that helped him be here today.

Would you consider making a donation to St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital? Email or call 1800 961 441.