Mr. Isakka, can you describe what you do for a living?
I’m an intensive care nurse. I look after people in the specialities, neurology and trauma section which means that I see a lot of people from various sudden accidents. Quite often patients are in a coma and on life support so there is little nurse to patient communication.
Did you wish to work in the trauma section or is that just the way it worked out for you?
I did a critical care placement during University in intensive care and neurology trauma. I found it quite intellectually stimulating because you have really got to apply the knowledge you learned so quickly and accurately. I didn’t find working in the wards to be as stimulating.
So the challenge of fast paced problem solving drew you to it. Do you enjoy and thrive on that stress on some level?
Yes, anything can go wrong at any second without warning. Working under pressure, problem solving and then inevitably seeing the outcome, which hopefully is positive, gives me the feeling that I did something worthwhile.
I think sometimes a career chooses you rather than you choosing it, perhaps that’s what happened there. Can you remember the moment when you knew you wanted to be a nurse?
When I finished high school I knew I wanted to get into medicine. I applied for undergrad medicine but didn’t get it so I thought I’d undertake something related. My cousin is a nurse practitioner and talked to me about her work. I thought I’d try that and then move onto medicine but since working in the field I realised that is not what I am destined to do.
How long have you been at your hospital now?
Over two and a half years I have worked in drug and alcohol out patients and half intensive care. You see some pretty interesting people and have to deal with situations that you don’t ordinarily encounter. The next chapter is that I will be working in Broome, Western Australia.
Were you transferred to Broome or was that something you specifically volunteered for?
I’m very fortunate to have travelled to around fifteen destinations in the world now. I travelled through India and Nepal, I saw a lot of sick people affected by polio and really underprivileged people and thought as a nurse that it would be great to treat them. I returned from the last trip and spoke to my G.P. friend who has done a lot of work in aboriginal and remote communities in Australia. Through his experiences he believes that a lot of people forget about problems we have in our own country and instead focus on overseas without realising how bad it is for people in isolated areas of Australia.
I applied for a position in remote Northern Territory and then a position came up for an opening of an intensive care unit in Broome hospital.
I suppose it happened a lot faster than you expected. Were you shocked by how quickly you had to leave your life is Sydney behind?
I have always wanted to move away, do something different and take a chance. I have looked into doing things like that before overseas but with the case of this, I applied on the Saturday, was interviewed on the Monday and Wednesday then 15 minutes after the interview they called to say I had the job! It’s just weird thinking that finally now it’s happening, I am doing this thing that I thought I would do eventually but it turns out that the time is now. It’s scary but exciting at the same time. As for the next step, I’ll be saving to get myself overseas long term in either Paris or Helsinki.
Considering you work in the trauma unit, did you struggle when things didn’t go to plan? Do you have a method that helps you cope emotionally now?
It was tough in the beginning. First of all you become desensitised a little bit. You have to develop the skill to be able to switch on and switch off. I must be supportive and emotional for the patient’s family yet not too emotional that it affects my work and life outside work.
I think the most important thing is to have someone who you can vent to. I lived with two nurses in the past and that was good because they understood yet worked in different sections so the stories were always different.
I bought a piano a year ago thinking that I’d like to get back into it. I hoped that as soon as I sat down, it would come back to me but it didn’t happen that easily. Sometimes I spend time around the piano with friends so it’s great to just hang around and listen. We don’t have a TV in the house, I think it’s nice when you’re kind of forced to talk to each other.
That’s interesting, I noticed that a lot of my friends don’t watch as much TV anymore. Hopefully instead of watching reality TV, we’re living our lives instead.
You spoke earlier about your desire to travel; do you have an idea of what your perfect happiness is?
I’m not sure if I am thinking about it too philosophically or not but my thoughts of true happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. I also believe that is it important to be able to feel sad. People get caught up on feeling like they always need to be happy and if they are sad then something is wrong, but I think they can exist together.
Absolutely. I don’t believe that people are meant to or can be happy all the time. Humans have a range of emotions. You can’t be 100% of just one emotion all the time.
Yes, there’s a book called The happiness trap by Russ Harris which compares the eastern and western world’s ways of thinking about happiness. The eastern idea of happiness is that is encompasses sadness as well. They see it as a good thing because it’s a part of life, for example death or mourning. It is therefore understood and embraced, in a way. Whereas the western world tries to reduce it as much as possible and almost makes it feel like a taboo or suppressed subject.
Do you have a favourite book or author?
Running with scissors by Augusten Burroughs is an incredible book. There’s a movie but it’s really bad so don’t watch it. Also, Haruki Murakami’s books are wonderful.
If you could change something about yourself what would it be?
My teeth or my bank account balance. Laughs.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Shoes! I don’t know what it is, but I’ll go out looking for trousers and come back with two pairs of shoes. Before I went overseas last year I did a cull because I had about thirty pairs but now I’m down to fifteen.
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to sail. I met a guy who sailed a boat from Miami to Iceland. An Icelandic man bought the boat from him so he had to sail it to him. I would sail to Iceland!
What is your most marked characteristic?
At the moment it’s my new moustache.
What is your most treasured possession?
My toy poodle, Rory.
Thank you for your time Mitchell.
Photographs and interview by Jason de Plater.