24/7 security ‘a huge relief’ 

21 December 2022

Article from January 2023 edition of INPractice
After 31/2 traumatic years Amanda Treagus now has a legacy she can be proud of.

Having survived a brutal bashing at the hands of a psychotic teenage boxer in 2019, Port Lincoln nurse Amanda Treagus says her faith in humanity is only now slowly coming back.

“It’s still taking time. I feel like I look at people differently and I’m definitely still not trusting of people,’’ she says.

“The guy who assaulted me was a young man, it’s not something I pictured happening. I was being nice, I was offering to call his mum for him, and he just snapped.

“It just made it really hard for me. I wasn’t being rude or abrupt with him, I was being kind and compassionate, and then that happened. It has definitely made me look  at people differently.

“I started going to a different supermarket to avoid certain people that I would see at the supermarket that I would normally go to. People that may be affected by drugs or mental health issues. I also found myself avoiding places where young people would be, which was hard given I had children around the same age as my attacker.
I stopped going out at night. I just felt really uneasy going to certain places.’’

A resident of Port Lincoln for 23 years, Ms Treagus describes the decision to finally deploy 24/7 security guards at the local hospital as “a huge relief”.

“I think up until my assault we certainly dealt with a lot of incidents. I know myself that year (2019) I’d been threatened by another patient. She threatened to stab me with scissors and kill my family.

“In my time as a nurse I have been grabbed, scratched, shoved, verbally assaulted, spat at, had things thrown at me and one night a very large, intoxicated man was trying to get me into his bed. 

“We all have horror stories. I think it’s just been a build-up for a lot of us for a  long time, just the constant exposure to violent people, aggressive people, and  then when my assault happened, a couple of nurses left.

“I think the fear of it happening to them was all of a sudden very real. Everyone was on edge, this could happen to anyone at any time, so we were, and are, definitely feeling very vulnerable. 

“A lot of staff are on edge all the time. While small changes were implemented at our facility, such as nil tolerance signs, cameras, personal duress alarms, I knew from my experience none of these strategies would matter in a real-life situation such as the one I was faced with.

“I know one of the girls who was working on the ward during the shift that I was assaulted, she has certainly been affected by it and she’s been punched in the stomach since by a patient.

“I’ve had people question me and everyone’s got an opinion on what I should and shouldn’t do and that’s what I’ve struggled with a bit. 

“People think because that happened to me I should have left nursing. It’s certainly been something I’ve struggled with mentally and has hugely impacted my family. 

“They were very worried when I did return to work, scared that this would happen again. I just wanted to keep on nursing no matter what happened to me. I just wanted to be a nurse, I wanted to still try and care for people and it’s been very hard to do that, being in constant fear basically.’’

Following the August 2019 attack, Ms Treagus had four weeks off work “until the bruising on my face went away”. 

“I was king-hit 10 times, at least six in the head, neck and shoulder that I recall, the force of which caused bruising, grazes and scarring,’’ she said.

“I had lingering concussion, I was nauseous for a long time, my hearing was affected, and I had intense skull pain, causing severe headaches. I still suffer headaches too, relating to my neck pain.

“I had crushed nerves on my spine, and the neck pain I have still requires physiotherapy and massage treatment. It’s depressing, I feel like there won’t be an end to the pain, and it’s a constant reminder of what happened.

“I was standing in the doorway when this attack happened. Had there been security present, this may never have happened, or not been so severe. Instead, I sustained all those hits, knocking me from the doorway across the room until I was pressed up against a cupboard in the corner. My screaming saved me, I think. 

“But what I will never forget is the blank stare, like he was looking straight through me, and he stood back against the wall exactly where he was before he lurched at me initially. 

“There was absolutely nothing I could have done, no button I could have pressed during this ordeal. That is why physical security guards on site are so important- to step in immediately and be a presence, and possibly a deterrent with particular patients.

“I was started on a return-to-work program. The doctor basically said the sooner you get back the better, and then after five weeks of trying to do that, I was in constant pain with my neck because the force of all the hits I took to the head gave me a neck sprain.’’

But the trauma of her attack remained very raw, so much so that it only took the raised voice of a colleague to bring it all rushing to the surface.

“Something inside me just broke at that point and I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,’’ Ms Treagus said.

“A very kind doctor suggested I needed more time out, recognising that I had PTSD, so I had another five months off and, through injury management, I had to go to see a psychiatrist in Adelaide which was an ordeal in itself. I then ended up seeing a psychotherapist in Port Lincoln.

“We are very lucky to have a psychotherapist here who specialises in trauma and post-traumatic stress, so I did a lot of work with her to do the EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy). 

“It centred on the trauma of the assault and tried to draw my bad memories away, which actually worked relatively well and I was able to psychologically recover better, but it’s still a constant battle, constant work.

“When I left work the second time I was quite suicidal. It was like I was living outside myself, I couldn’t make sense of anything.  I was extremely fearful of everything, it was a surreal time.

“Despite all the support I received I felt so alone, and that no one could understand what I was going through. I was caught between feeling utterly helpless to trying to push through my mental anguish to give the illusion I had everything under control and could still function as a wife, mother, friend, and colleague.

“I was so used to looking after people and focusing on their needs, it was quite difficult to realise I needed help and to accept the help and try and move forward.’’

Ms Treagus’s then teenage daughter Chloe, at the time in Year 11, was so concerned by her mother’s plight that she would call in sick at school.

“It was quite a difficult time for her too to see me go through all of that. She was a child that never liked having days off school, but she actually started taking days off saying she was sick. I didn’t realise at the time but it was more to keep an eye on me. She’s a very perceptive young girl, she was basically watching me 24/7 to make sure I didn’t do anything.

“A couple of colleagues in particular, they could see the anguish I was in. I was jittery, scared to go anywhere, and that lasted for many months. Even after returning to work, I felt OK going to work, but to go shopping, simple things I take for granted, I all of a sudden felt like I couldn’t do.

Pictured above: The Treagus family attending a wedding ceremony at Eyre Peninsula's Louth Bay in 2020: Daughter Chloe, Amanda, husband Ben and son Jack.

“My husband and children literally walked into the shop with me holding my hand to make me feel safer, and I still feel that need at times now.

“I had a couple of good work friends that helped me through that and just the support of everyone at work as a whole.  The managers especially were amazing in Port Lincoln, they went above and beyond to support me, I’m definitely grateful for that.’’

Despite strong support from colleagues and family, the violence continued unabated on her return to work.

“There was one incident with a gentleman who was chasing a nurse down the corridor and tried to hit her with his walking stick. 

I was involved with one where an overway table was thrown across the room at me,’’ Ms Treagus said of an incident in 2021.

“As far as I am aware the management at the hospital wanted security guards, the previous director of nursing identified we needed security years ago. From what I understand it was a money issue and the final decision was made further up the chain. So local management, they actually wanted security the whole way through.’’

Ms Treagus was completely taken aback by the media storm she would unwittingly unleash when she first posted about the 2019 attack on social media.

“It was a huge burden,’’ she said. “I guess when I did speak out initially through Facebook that was just to let my friends know basically that this had happened and I was in a state of shock.

“It was only a couple of days after and then that post got shared and it just went crazy.  

I started getting messages from people I didn’t know.

“I don’t know how certain people in the media got my phone number. It became very invasive and through that I was sort of scared to be seen out in public in my own community. I’m not really sure why, I can’t really understand it. I guess because I’m a private person generally, it just became this huge thing but I’m glad that it went that way because it raised the issue. 

“I chose to stay strong and fight for what we all deserve, a basic right you would think, to feel safe at work.

“I knew that if I didn’t say anything then it would have been swept under the carpet and nothing would have ever happened. 

“There was a lot of criticism, with some people stating it was just a part of nursing, you should expect that! I was asked questions by the media about ‘where was the security at the hospital when this happened?’. I didn’t actually want to say ‘well, we don’t have security’. 

“That would make everyone more vulnerable. There would be a whole host of people that would present that would pretty much think they could do anything, act how they like because nothing’s going to happen anyway. We weren’t protected.”

Ms Treagus says the ANMF (SA Branch) “has been hugely supportive, contacting me personally and keeping me updated every step of the way”. 

“The union support both at state level and from our local hospital reps has been amazing and, well, I guess it’s the ultimate reason we’ve got guards.’’

Last year Ms Treagus moved out of Eyre Ward B, the site of the attack, and has begun working in the hospital’s chemotherapy ward.

“It was May (last year) I started training.  I chose to do that to get myself away from the (Eyre) ward. Chemotherapy is quite a small unit and it’s a place where I feel secure, you don’t have the general public coming in and out. I felt like if I was going to keep working as a nurse I had to be in a safer environment. Physically it has been easier for my neck pain, with less manual handling also.

“I think everyone’s still going to be uneasy with certain patients, that’s inevitable,  but to know that we’ve got someone there to back us up immediately if something does happen, it’s a good feeling,’’ Ms Treagus said.

“The ANMF said to me ‘That’s your legacy’, as in getting security. 

“After thinking about it, I thought ‘wow, I guess it is something to be proud of.  It’s protecting nurses into the future at Port Lincoln’.’’

“Everyone has a right to be safe at work. Sadly this has not been the case at Port Lincoln,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/ Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

 “Amanda’s tenacity and bravery along with the commitment and dedication of her workmates to her and to each other has been core to achieving 24/7 security. 

“We sincerely thank Amanda for shining a crucial light on this issue. We also extend our gratitude to all ANMF (SA Branch) members and activists who have been involved in the Port Lincoln campaign. 

“We are now assisting members at other locations where serious concerns have been raised, including Berri Hospital.’’

Click here to read the January 2023 edition of INPractice.