Rebecca Symonds: Emergency Department and Intensive Care Nurse

It was the Puketapu community spirit that kept Rebecca Symonds going in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The Emergency Department nurse of 17 years found herself at the helm of a community-led medical clinic, dressing wounds and co-ordinating mental health care for children at the local school.

Rebecca woke on 14 February to a “raging torrent” outside her window where the stop-bank had broken.

Rebecca and her husband rushed outside to help an elderly couple out of the water and brought them home to get warm and dry until a rescue boat was flagged down hours later.

“We were lucky that our house was raised which saved it from flooding.”

On the third day after the Cyclone, the Symonds walked down to Puketapu School where they found a group of parents setting up tables with clothes and toys for those who had lost everything.

Rebecca brought in her first aid kit to tend to people’s wounds.

“I raided other people’s supplies and used community donations to make basic first aid kits to give out to people, as I realised their wounds could fester into something worse if they weren’t looked at.”

This soon snowballed into a stand-up medical clinic supported by other local nurses and GPs.

“In the initial stage with all communications down and access to town difficult, the hub at the school became a centre point for the community to get help and support. We made it easy for people to be seen at the hub instead of going into town.

“There were so many doctors and nurses who turned up to help.”

Rebecca said adrenaline kept her going during the two weeks the clinic ran after the cyclone.

“There were times when you would crash but it was such a supportive community environment that we’d help pick each other up.

“It was quite an overwhelming experience which ultimately brought the community spirit out in everyone.”


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