The voice of Julie, a blood donor nurse, who lives in Melbourne.

Emotional. Challenging. Exciting. My year of 2020.

I had recently sold my home and was living in my son’s house awaiting settlement of my new home with my partner. My partner of five years and I had both lived in separate houses, and had decided now was the time to buy a house and move in together. Normally our extended family would have helped us to move, however due to COVID no one was allowed to help.  This was extremely difficult and my family was eager to see our new home.

It was challenging when I left my son’s house, as his girlfriend had just broken up with him via a text message. She didn’t explain why, she asked him not to contact her and so there was no closure for him. I found this extremely difficult. Just when my son needed me the most, I wasn’t allowed to see him, and there was no way for me to be there comforting him. I was emotional as my son was going through a difficult time in his life.

Then there were the emotions of living with my partner that I had never lived with before. I was used to having time alone, and suddenly this was gone. My work gave me the space I needed as I am a shift worker. Often when I arrived home from work, my partner would be already asleep, then when I was sleeping, he was awake. Sometimes we would go from Sunday evening to Friday without seeing each other. I enjoyed having the time to myself whilst I got used to living with someone again.

The beauty of 2020 was no traffic. During the second lockdown there were literally no cars on the road! As an essential worker, I travelled outside my 5kms radius every day. I didn’t have to worry about what time I needed to leave home, every day was like a Sunday.

Through my work as a Nurse with Lifeblood it soon became apparent to our donors that donating blood was one of the valid reasons to leave home during lockdowns. Donors were allowed beyond their 5km radius to travel to a donor centre. Normally, there were a lot of last-minute cancelations as life would get in the way – kids’ sporting commitments, holiday plans and other appointments. There have been a generous number of donors as there hasn’t been many other commitments.

There are several reasons for the increase in donors. I noticed with less donors travelling due to the restrictions on both local and international travel, there are more people staying home in Australia. The lack of travel has also increased the number of donors eligible to donate, as there are less travel deferrals. I noticed donors taking the opportunity to meet their friends – they donate together, have a chat and catch up. They really look forward to coming in. It has been one of the rare routines that people have been able to enjoy during the lockdowns, especially those who have lost their jobs. Donating has been their opportunity to see real people and to connect.

People often dress up to donate, put on their make-up, do their hair, and make a day out of it. I haven’t seen the normal tracksuits or Ugg boot attire during the past year. There is a gentleman that wears a suit every time he donates – a little impractical to take blood but endearing. People genuinely look forward to their outing. I’ve also observed that there has been a powerful sense of community, a real push to volunteer and do something to help others.  Whilst Victoria was in its harsh lockdowns other parts of Australia were enjoying their freedom.  Just because we were in a lockdown did not mean the need for blood decreased and with the usual spirit of Australians our donors answered the call.

Red blood cells lasts 42 days from the day of collection. Many of our donors who had more time during the lockdown donated plasma rather than blood. Just over half of your blood is a yellow liquid called plasma, and it’s powerful! With plasma, you can donate every two weeks. We send plasma to hospitals and to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL), who use it in 18 life-giving ways – from treating kidney disease to immune deficiencies as well as providing temporary protection from Chicken Pox and helping to stop critical bleeding.

Two of my friends contracted COVID during 2020, one had only just returned to work after recovering from breast cancer, then caught COVID. Both had quite different experiences.

It was on my birthday that restrictions started to ease and my son was allowed to come to my house for dinner.  It really was the best birthday present after a difficult year. We celebrated Christmas in our new home with all our family which was truly a blessing to have us all together.

Same. Ground-hog day. My year of 2021.

At the start of 2021, Victoria was getting back to normal. For most Melburnians, we thought we had beaten it, that we had survived the worst of the harsh restrictions and that the new phase of COVID life began. Many Victorians were looking at Sydney, thinking their controls were inadequate and that the authorities were letting the virus get out of control. The Sydney version of lockdown was very different to ours; IKEA and Bunnings stayed open in New South Wales. Mecca cosmetics remained open, but the chocolate shop was closed. What was classed as an essential business was very different to the restrictions in Victoria. It didn’t seem to make much sense. And then, in a blink of an eye, the Coronavirus came back to haunt us! We plunged into a harsh lockdown once more.

As we entered more and then more lockdowns, I noticed more cars on the road. More people becoming more comfortable getting out. I felt the same, knowing more about the virus and where there were outbreaks. There was no way that I would have caught a train in 2020, but now I catch it all the time. One day in the middle of the week, I arrived at the city around 8am and there had been three people on my carriage for the entire trip. It just blew my mind how there was hardly anyone around, in what would have normally been peak hour. My sister is also an essential worker and we both work in the city.  On some days we would catch the train together and catch up. She has struggled throughout lockdown six, so having this small amount of contact has really helped.

During our current lockdown our generous donors in Victoria did not disappoint with all available appointments snapped up quickly in an effort for donors to have a valid reason to leave their home once again.

Much of my workday hasn’t really changed, it’s been much of the same really. I have kept myself busy at home – I’m not just sitting around doing nothing. I am doing what I can, including my full two-hours of exercise. I have been running, gardening, painting around our home and knitting. I made a baby blanket for my girlfriend that took me seven weeks to knit! I’ve had the time, so it has been enjoyable. I have also tried to keep connected with my family as much as possible. I have been meeting my son in Woolworths as he is within my 5km radius. We do our weekly shop together; it’s been the main way we have been able to catch up and see each other.

I have learnt through this time that you can’t control a lot of things. We learnt at work about the ELOC and ILOC – the external locus of control and internal locus of control. You can waste a lot of energy worrying about things you are unable to control, and I have learnt to not focus on these. Naturally I still worry, but it doesn’t get to me as much as it once did.

As the restrictions started to ease, we were allowed to travel 15km from home. I have been meeting my sister on a Sunday morning for a 6km run around Patterson River. I am now double-vaccinated, as are my whole family. I am wondering what our new “COVID normal” life will be like.