A softie at heart

Sharon Paull is made of tough stuff. But recently the Community Endorsed Enrolled Nurse found herself welling up when she saw the look of pure joy on a client’s face as he left the confines of his wheelchair and enjoyed the freedom of unfettered movement in a heated public pool.

“It was like an ‘aww wow’ moment for me,” says Sharon, who works at Uniting AgeWell’s Hume Community Programs. “There was Kevin, laughing and grinning and thoroughly enjoying himself holding onto the side of the pool and doing lengths, with the Home Care Worker at hand. It was a deeply moving feeling knowing that I had helped make a difference to his life.”

And that sums up Sharon’s career. Making a difference to the lives of the older people on Government funded home care packages through Uniting AgeWell in the Wangaratta area.

The theme of International Nurses’ Day on May 12 is “our nurses, our future. The economic power of care.” But Sharon doesn’t need a slogan to remind her what she already knows; that nursing is in her blood, and helping older people, like retired fitter and turner Kevin Nikkleson of Mansfield, live their best lives, is what she is all about.

“I’m a bit of a Kevin-fan,” she admits. “As a youngster he fell down a mine shaft and broke his back, then when he was admitted to hospital he contracted polio. He walked out of hospital in callipers and on crutches several years later, yet despite all this, he’s so upbeat and positive. We can all learn a lot from people like him.”

Sharon also enjoys seeing the person-centred care that 83-year-old Kevin receives from the Uniting AgeWell Home Care Team in action. A ramp was installed at the back of the home Kevin shares with his wife, Nerida, so he can nip in and out in his wheelchair, adjustments were made to their bathroom and he also gets help around the home.

Sharon also loves being able to interact with clients in their homes, where they are comfortable and happy. She shares Kevin’s passion for woodwork, and enjoys chatting to him as he tinkers away in his workshop, making bird boxes for his garden.

Sharon makes pot plant holders and plant stands for the one-acre Myrtleford lifestyle block she shares with her wife, Courtney, who works as a Personal Care Worker at another aged care company. “It’s a tough gig,” laughs Sharon. “We’ve been living here for three years now, and as fast as I make the stands , she fills them with plants.”

Sharon is one of those amazing people who bring enormous joy into the lives of those they hold dear. She and her ex-husband get along well and she is close to her whole family.

But life has not always been easy for Sharon, who has had to work for everything she has achieved. When she and her sisters were growing up, their little family did a lot of moving around country Victoria as her Mum did her best to keep her three girls safe and happy.

“Sometimes we did it hard,” says Sharon. “We even ended up staying in a tent in a caravan park at one stage, but we were rich in the things that mattered. In love and kindness.”

Sharon attributes this to her mother, who she describes as courageous and very strong-willed. “Mum spent a few years in an orphanage and was absolutely determined for us girls to know we were loved and secure. We’ve all inherited her can-do attitude.”

Sharon finished school and worked in a variety of jobs – in restaurants, supermarkets and even in the construction industry where she did a bit of plastering and building. She married, settled in Wodonga and raised her two children, a boy and a girl. During this time she worked in a factory manufacturing work clothes and volunteered at Meals on Wheels, Riding for the Disabled and taking older people shopping.

Her divorce came as no surprise to her family. “I’ve always known that I’m gay,” Sharon says. “But back in the day it was never spoken about, there was a lack of acceptance by the public, especially in smaller country towns. When I finally told Mum in my late-twenties that I was gay, she just laughed and said she had always known it, she just did not know why it took me so long to tell them all!”

With her personal life on track, Sharon decided it was time to follow her heart and get her career on track too. So she started work as a Personal Care Worker at an aged care facility in Myrtleford, studying to become a nurse in her spare time.

“Finding time to study was hard, but I graduated six years ago and have absolutely found my niche! I love providing holistic care to older people, it’s so rewarding,” she says.

Working in age care also brought her another gift – her wife! Their love story culminated in their wedding on their dream lifestyle block they bought, surrounded by family, friends and love.

A year ago Sharon joined Uniting AgeWell as a community nurse, and felt an instant rapport with her older clients’ needs to live well and safely in their homes for as long as possible. “Because I moved around so much as a child, I totally get the uncertainty that comes with being uprooted. Your home is your anchor.”

She is also passing on the knowledge she has learned over the years, and is helping with the ongoing training of Personal Care Workers at the Uniting AgeWell Wangaratta office. Hands-on wisdom and experience that often cannot be found in all the text-book knowledge in the world.

Sharon, who is a grandmother, remains very close to her son and to her daughter, who is also married to a woman. Sharon helps raise Courtney’s 14-year-old daughter, who lives with them. She is also very close to her Mum and to her step-Dad.

Sharon also loves that the church-based Uniting AgeWell not only has inclusion as one of its five values underpinning everything that it does, but also celebrates and champions all those identifying as LGBTQIA+ “There may be some people in the community who are uncomfortable with me being gay, but I like to think that in the future there will be total acceptance that love is love.”

But not necessarily in the feline world! Sharon and Courtney have three rescue cats - Macie, Potato and Moose – that they shower with affection and love to bits. “At best they allow us to exist in their domain,” laughs Sharon. “I often wonder if our chooks are fonder of us than the cats are.”

Learn more about nursing careers with Uniting AgeWell