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Night Shift Hero in a Red Cape – the story of ICU Nurse, Rewa Purdie

Rewa (pictured left) celebrates her retirement with colleague Robyn.

When you sit down to chat with 74-year-old Rewa Purdie you very quickly get a sense of what a cherished member of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team she is.

Barely a minute goes by without Rewa acknowledging a friendly wave or receiving a big hug from a colleague.

ICU is her family, and the decision to retire has not come easily for this lifelong carer.

As The Beatles rocketed up the charts, 15-year-old Rewa – one of 11 children – didn’t covet the daring short skirts and go-go boots in the magazines. She dreamed of proudly donning the fancy red cape and white hat worn by nurses at Belverdale Hospital in Whanganui, where she worked as a Hospital Aide.

“All I could think was how nice (my older sister) looked in her uniform, and I thought ‘Yes, I want to be a nurse too!” Rewa said.

“I was never uncertain. I was going to be a nurse. Full stop.”

And so began 27 years of ICU weekend night shifts in hospitals including Palmerston North; decades she recalls with great fondness.

“I would go to bed with my babies and children in the early evening,” Rewa said. (She had three children at the time, with a fourth child arriving some years later). “Then I would get up for my 11pm shift and work through the night while my husband stayed with our children,” she said.

“It was a very quiet ICU, compared to here. There were only seven beds. All our most seriously ill patients, including major trauma and head injuries, went to Wellington Hospital.

“I like the continuity of care in ICU, seeing the same patient each day and building a connection with them and their family. I like seeing them getting better and seeing how grateful their family members are for the care you give them.

“I love it when a patient comes back to see you and sometimes you can’t even recognise them – they look so good, so healthy!”

When three of her children flew the nest, across the Tasman, Rewa returned to study to become a Registered Nurse and fulfilled her dream of moving to Australia to join them.

In 2004, Rewa found herself in a new country, and daunted by a very different world inside the busy ICU at Gold Coast Hospital’s old campus.

“Oh, my goodness, I was terrified!” she recalled.

With the support of an amazing team Rewa settled in and found her happy place.

“It was fabulous, I absolutely loved the old unit. Everybody helped each other, as they do now, but we were all in a line, not in single rooms as we are now,” she said.

“I remember my first time on night duty. I had never cared for a head trauma patient before. I was terrified. But I had a male nurse beside me, who was also from New Zealand, and he helped me get through that first night.”

After 46 years in ICU nursing, it is that same sense of camaraderie Rewa will miss most. 

“You not only have patients to care for, but you must also look out for each other as well,” she said.

“Even in this huge, beautiful new hospital, the staff are still here to help you through anything.

“I have stayed here so long because all my friends are at work, and I just love work.”

Finally, this grandmother to six has come to accept there is more to life, like walking in the sand with her sister in Palm Springs and eating gelato in Roma, Italy – adventures at the top of her retirement to-do list.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank Rewa for her tireless service, her warm friendship, and for embodying the 6 Cs of nursing: Care, Compassion, Courage, Communication, Commitment and Competence. 

Last updated 09 Oct 2023