BY BRITTANY SHAW
When undertaking my paramedic degree, I can vividly remember my first lecture. Our lecturer stood in front of the class and started explaining the journey we were about to embark on. He told us about the challenges we would face and described the highs the job can bring. We sat wide eyed, as he finished the lecture with a simple sentence. “Start here, go anywhere”. Now at the time I thought he meant maybe a station assignment in Townsville or Mt Isa, moving through the ranks and maybe doing some work in the private sector. If I wanted to be adventurous, I could try a different state or maybe even a different country. That was what I thought “go anywhere” was leading us towards. When I first started studying paramedicine, the international opportunities available now were just in their infancy. In those early days if you wanted to be successful you became a paramedic, you worked in an ambulance. The end. In Australia specifically, the extended care opportunities outside of that “office on wheels” was still somewhat limited, but the future path were beginning to be formed. To me, that goal of “anywhere” was a location. It was a pin that I could put into a map and know that once I was there, I had made it. It was a job title, a dream station allocation or simply just a qualification. I didn’t understand what it meant to my future to “go anywhere”. I never thought that I would be able to forge my own journey, let alone create opportunities for both myself, those around me and those whose journeys hadn’t even begun.
As my studies progressed I slowly extended my network as we all do. Friendships were built and mentors discovered. Strong women, who may have been miles ahead of me, but who were willing to reach down and help pull me up to the next step. We slowly came together from different networks and different lives, finding that we complimented each other by each being uniquely similar. The friends I had sat next to for that first lecture weren’t necessarily now my closest friends, but they had helped me journey to find them. As time went on we each graduated and started that journey to the mythical anywhere we had been so excited to hear about all those years earlier. We found ourselves quite literally scattered to the furthest corners of the globe, each of us taking our own journey to what we thought anywhere was.
Now where does stronger together fall into place with this story so far? I won’t lie, when I sat down and started writing this article it had a very different underlying tone to the theme. The aim was to share the experiences of three women, each striving towards the same goal but each taking very different journeys to get there. It was going to be filled with the highs and happiness of those journeys; showcasing the strength in each pathway, our best memories of the time apart and how a friendship remained throughout. I was going to talk about how dinner one evening turned into a six-day trip through Europe, the way we celebrated each other’s achievements like our own and how much joy a simple notification from the group chat can bring. How when Covid19 was at its worst and making us feel so overwhelmed we managed to find the joy amongst each other through outlets such as online Uno and planned for the next time we would be able to simply sit in each other’s presence.
But we all know what they say about the best laid plans. Piece by piece that story changed. Much like a coming of age movie drama, we each had our world crumble around us in different ways. Now this story isn’t unique to just us three. The past year has showcased exactly how quickly the story changes, highlighting the struggles of individuals no matter how passionate they are for the happily ever after. But what was important for us was that no matter what, the foundation was strong enough to allow us to help rebuild our lives no matter what the crumble point was. The aerial view of the paths we each took could not be more different. Different countries, different time zones, different uniforms. But the key similarities are still there.
The core group of women I surrounded myself with were my foundation. Each of us knows that we can take a challenge and dive into the unknown, because we have the safety net of each other around us to be there no matter the result. I can’t help but wonder what each of our careers and lives would look like if we didn’t have the support of each other whilst going through difficult times. Would I have been comfortable moving states if I hadn’t helped one friend fly to Canada and another to London? Could I have spoken at an international conference without all of them sitting in the audience or joining me via facetime?
Being stronger together doesn’t mean you need to show strength every second of every day. For me, it means that on the days I need to show weakness, I have others there to support me. Like the pieces of a puzzle, we each fit together to form a whole; we cover the gaps and share in the strengths.
Throughout the past year, the world had to isolate. Countries have closed their borders, individuals have been isolated in their homes, essential workers quarantined away from their loved ones. We have all banded together to help each other through an unprecedented time; but at the same time we have never been more apart. We can all remember and identify the different phases of each lockdown no matter which part of the world we were living in. There was the toilet paper phase, the camp away from your family phase and the clapping phase. The baking phase, the exercise phase, and most importantly in my house at least – the pillow fort phase.
Whilst we battled a disease impacting our physical health, the risk and toll it took on our mental health was bubbling just below the surface. In some parts of the world the public reached out to front line workers and did their part to help. They cooked us meals and supported us where they could. They came together, showed us support and allowed us to be stronger.
It can be so easy to get caught up in the mindset of needing to always kick down doors. I acknowledge the privilege I am afforded purely due to so many strong women going before me who have already done some of the hard work. They have created opportunities and a new normal so that myself and my peers don’t have to. Now don’t get me wrong, whilst I may not need to force every door open there will still be obstacles that need to be moved. Some doors may be partially open and need a little nudge to get them opening faster. But most importantly, I need to ensure that I’m not pulling the door closed behind me. What is the point in one of us succeeding if there isn’t a pathway for more to come through after us. Together we form the foundation for each other. We have forged a path, so that each woman following in our footsteps doesn’t have to start the fight from square one. For me, this is the foundation of stronger together.