Meet Jess Burrows, The Prince Charles Hospital’s 30-something year old, camera-toting, tornado-chasing theatre nurse known for her endless supply of daggy humour.
You can tell when Clinical Nurse Jess Burrows is in theatre at The Prince Charles Hospital, by the wave of chuckling and giggling from patients as she makes her way past, thanks to her dad jokes.
The amateur photographer explains how a little extra time with each patient goes a long way, and why she now feels just as comfortable chasing and photographing tornadoes across the American mid-west as she does in her scrubs.
Why on earth would a self-proclaimed creature of habit suddenly head to the middle of the United States to chase tornadoes?
Being a theatre nurse has taught me to live every day to its fullest because you never know what the day might bring and what the future has in store.
You’re not really living if you wake up and do the same thing every day and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and do something totally outrageous.
So, in my wisdom at the ripe old age of 30 I decided to start a bucket list and thought, “I’d love to see a tornado.”
You’re renowned for your joke-telling, but you’re also known for extracting all sorts of weird information from people, even though you may only see them for a matter of minutes. How do you do that?
As a perioperative nurse we only get to spend a very brief moment with a patient while they’re on their health journey.
What saddens me is that I think in many ways we’ve forgotten the art of conversation and the art of being human, not just saying hello and being superficial with your pleasantries, but really connecting with patients.
I find the easiest way to do that is to ask a patient when they’re here, “What would you normally be doing if you weren’t in hospital today?”
It gives you an instant snapshot of them as a person, their passions, talents, hopes and dreams. And from there, the conversation is endless…
Just like that!
The next question of course, is why you do it?
I find this interaction with patients incredibly fulfilling. It’s really hard to quantify but if I am able to make that patient feel better, and for that moment let them forget about the stress or the worry surrounding them, I feel rewarded.
I don’t expect a thank you, I don’t expect the patients to remember us, but If I can make them feel for a second that they weren’t scared then that actually makes my day.
Not everyone opens up easily – but you had an interesting conversation recently with a young patient with autism?
He was so anxious so I asked his mum, “What’s his fascination?” as people with autism often tend to get very, very interested in particular things.
She told me his was hand dryers.
I could see the rest of the team thinking, “Oh my god we know nothing about hand dryers!”, but being unphased I simply asked him, “Ok, so what’s your favourite hand-dryer?”
The common ground and connection was instant – he just lit up and we got a lesson in what they did and how they worked, and he almost forgot where he was! The stress and trauma for this young man was almost totally eliminated and his perioperative journey was smooth and seamless.
It’s not hard to start a unique conversation with someone if you can find an interest, and in that brief moment when you’re sitting with someone you can end up hearing an amazing life story, and it’s usually filled with optimism and positivity and I can tell you, it’s not often filled with regret.
But, it gives me the extra motivation to go and do something different and do something out of the ordinary.
You’re making your ‘out of the ordinary experience’ an annual holiday, but what was the first tornado-chasing trip like?
Spending an entire week with a bunch of strangers on the other side of the world was initially terrifying and I kind of forgot about the tornadoes!
The first night that you get there, the tour operator completes a safety briefing and then explains meteorological phenomena and forecasting, the timelines of tornado chasing as well as the importance of teamwork and group cohesiveness – both of which come easy to a theatre nurse!
After cracking a few jokes to break the ice and gleefully watching the confused faces of my American counterparts when I hammed up my “Aussie-ness,” I felt accepted and embraced.
What’s the addiction?
Adrenaline, the thrill of the chase and witnessing mother nature’s absolute power.
Working in a job where no two days or cases are the same, I think to some degree makes us all adrenaline junkies. The same can be said about tornado chasing, you don’t know what you’re about to see until it’s there, upon you.
The ideal storms that produce tornadoes are supercells and these usually fire up in the afternoon like our summer thunderstorms do here, so it can involve a lot of waiting. As the tour guide says, “the better the weather, the worse the food.” Because if there is severe weather to chase, the only stops made will to top-up fuel and then it’s on – no toilet breaks or anything, and you could be chasing until midnight. Again, not too dissimilar to the life of a scrub nurse!
It’s just phenomenal to witness nature and the clouds forming from nothing into an absolutely phenomenal thunderstorm. I love getting out in nature, slowing down and just enjoying being outside. Landscape photography for me is all about ritual; the meditative, relaxing process of simply being outdoors and capturing something that is never going to happen again is truly wonderful for the soul.