WHEN thinking about taking time off from work, there are several things to consider; where can I go to relax? What is the accommodation like? Will it be an opportunity to try something new and meet some interesting people?

Or, you could volunteer your 40-plus years of experience and skills as a nurse and be deployed through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to southern Gaza to work in an active war zone.

That was the choice of Latrobe Regional Health nurse, Jane Swift*, who has forged a career in settings as diverse as remote Australia with the Flying Doctor Service and the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

“At the back of my mind, I’d always thought I’d like to do Red Cross work, or some sort of humanitarian work,” she said.

“There is something about that work outside of the hospital that I’ve been drawn to and found that I can contribute to and use my skills. There is a certain unpredictability… you have to think on your feet and sometimes, improvise.”

Her 13 overseas deployments include place names not often found on a Gippslander’s passport including Bangladesh, Sudan, Afghanistan, Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Northern Pakistan, Libya, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines.

“Gaza is a war zone. Of course I was anxious about going but I’d be more worried if I wasn’t, to be honest with you… it’s six years since I did a deployment,” she said.

“I’m older, you want to be able to contribute once you’re there.”

Jane’s work in Gaza took her to European Gaza Hospital, between Rafah and Khan Younis in southern Gaza, an area that has featured on most nightly news bulletins over the last six months.

“The ICRC in war zones has a strong focus on surgery. We were treating people injured in direct conflict. We also took burns cases, not necessarily war inflicted, but you can imagine in a refugee setting there are a number of hot water scalds particularly to children.

“The team was international, but we’re working alongside local staff who might have worked there for years.

“We’d work 11-12 hours a day, no real scheduled days off, and when you did find yourself not working you just slept or at least tried to,” Jane said.

After five weeks on the ground in Gaza, returning to Gippsland allowed Jane to reflect on her experience and the good fortune that many take for granted.

“The thing about war is that while all the fighting is going on, it’s very easy to forget that everyday people are simply trying to live their lives,” she said.

“They are in a war zone, that’s where they live and they’re just doing what everyone here in Australia is trying to do, provide food for their families, ensure they’ve got access to healthcare, education if possible.

“Most of us don’t have to think about getting enough food, clean water, or that our home will still be standing at the end of the day.

“It’s always good to come home. You just realise… I’m lucky. I was born in Australia. I didn’t do anything to earn that right, to be an Australian, but I’m very glad that I am.

“Gippsland is a beautiful part of the world. I got home and it’s very quiet and I could sleep again.”

*At the request of the nurse in this piece her name has been changed to protect her privacy.