Sr Sesarina Bau: ICU at St Vincent’s SydneyPrint
Sr Sesarina Bau has had a long and distinguished career in nursing, a career which began when she began her nursing training at St Vincent’s in Sydney.
That was in the early 1960s, and her initial training was soon followed by midwifery at St Vincent’s in Toowoomba, then infant welfare with Tresillian in Sydney before she went back
into St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst.
Sr Sesarina has been in and out of St Vincent’s for more than 50 years, and has worked across a wide range of departments including the surgical ward, the Emergency Department, and plastic surgery.
In between those stints, she worked in Thailand and Kampuchea in a relief operation for the International Committee for the Red Cross, and went as part of the team from St Vincent’s to the Solomon Islands to assist with disaster relief in the aftermath of Cyclone Namu which devastated the islands in 1986.
Given this range of experience in nursing, did Sr Sesarina ever think about doing medicine? “I did, but by that stage it was too late,” she said.
In 1993, Sr Sesarina was in charge of the HIV/AIDS unit at St Vincent’s. The syndrome had been discovered a little more than 10 years before, and understanding of it was still in its early days.
“The first day I was in the unit, the patients saw that a nun was coming to look after them, and made certain assumptions about how I felt about them.
“They ignored me, and carried on talking among themselves. I did the rounds, and at the end of it, I said to them, I will be back tomorrow.
“I will do the rounds again tomorrow, and at the end of it, I will ask youa question – ‘Why are you here?’
“They apologised to me, and I told them that I was there to care for them, and that was my role.”
Relations improved considerably after that head-on approach, but the going was tough in the ward. “Thirty people died in four months … so many deaths. It took a terrible toll.”
These days, Sr Sesarina is still tackling things head on, now in the Intensive Care Unit, where she works very closely with the nursing staff. She receives initial reports on the patients from them, and then later she works with the doctors.
She is also a support for the patients and their families. She has been here in that capacity for the past 11 years. Her no-nonsense approach is welcomed by the patients, who know where they
stand with her.
“The other day, one of the patients said “She’s very tough, that nun, but she seems to know what she is doing’,” said Sr Sesarina.
The 20-bed ICU can have its challenges, at times, but to Sr Sesarina it’s all part of the job. “Sometimes, the medical and nursing staff can find there is resistance on the part of a family or their family members. I ask the doctors and the nurses – ‘Have you explained what is needed to them?’
She sometimes finds herself bearing the brunt of anger, anxiety, or despair of the critically ill patients and their families. “I tell them I will come back a little later to speak
And then there is prayer. That’s essential in Sr Sesarina’s spiritual tool box. She prays over, or with, the most critically ill patients, most days. “I tell them, if you like you can join my prayer, or I can join yours.”