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Clinical Nurse, Karen Dillman has given a so(m)ber farewell to PA Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Assessment Unit (ADAU) after 20 years of service.
Karen started and stayed the course working in various roles in her nursing career at PA, before a position that offered work-life balance piqued her interest in the ADAU.
“A bonus in this role is that the same people have been in the team for years so you can make some long-term relationships.”
Her day-to-day revolves around meeting patients referred for drug or alcohol problems, either because of complications from dependency to their health or their lifestyle.
“Typically, the people we see have been referred to us from the courts or the police because they’ve had an accident related to the influence of alcohol or drugs. Patients are also referred from the wards if they have an established drug or alcohol problem,” she said.
“I see myself as the intermediary who can guide these people to their next steps and get them the help they need.”
Karen says one of the perks of the job is listening to patient’s stories, some of which are filled with danger and intrigue.
“I have heard so many fantastical stories from patients, it is almost like an episode of Underbelly. You can never really guess a person’s back-story until you’re there listening to them tell it.
“For me though, some of the best stories are seeing people who come in with a serious alcohol dependency go on to change their life.
“I had a patient call me from Canada, many years after being in the program, to tell me about how he was still sober and how his whole life had turned around.
Hearing how being sober led them to achieve things they never, ever dreamed they could do is the best part of my job.”
Having seen people from all different backgrounds and ages, Karen says dependency doesn’t discriminate and patients admitted with liver disease are getting younger and younger.
Her one wish for the future is to change the narrative around people with addiction.
“60-70 per cent of people are genetically loaded, which means typically there is someone in their family with alcohol problems.
“Most people don’t have a specific reason to turn to alcohol, but for many it is a change in circumstance which removes previous controls. Maybe they have retired so the control of having to go to work has been removed. Once that factor disappears, they lose the ability to keep themselves in check.
“These people who are coming in for help through ADAU are someone’s family, someone’s loved one. The best care for patients with dependency is remembering they are here because of a medical problem, and they need our help.”
Karen hopes that the next generation of nurses receive dedicated education and exposure to patients with addiction to better shape the future of patient care.
All the best to Karen in her retirement as she puts down the breathalyser for the last time.