The friendship and careers of Melbourne’s Footscray Hospital nurses Beverly Howard and Olga Learoyd

We became friends when we started working together. Beverly was always immaculately groomed and spoke beautifully. Her professional standards are just impeccable. She was a very good mentor: I’m a bit more open and impulsive and tend to explode, whereas Beverly will say, “Olga, just have a think about what you say.” I’m always apologising because I’m always saying the wrong things.

Beverly loves the fine china of life. In Sydney for a conference, we were looking for a restaurant and she said, “It’s got to have a white tablecloth and china”, and I said, “What for?” I would call her an elegant lady, while I’m more a jeans-and-boots girl. But we both love good food – and the champagne has to be French. You could describe us as two ladies who like class. We’re professional, determined, working women and we also like to go out.

We’ve had a couple of issues, just stupid things. Like, we went away and Beverly wanted this room to herself with two beds. I said, “You can’t have it all your way!” but that was just Bev. She wanted to be the queen of her own room and I had to sleep in a bunk, but I don’t let that stuff upset me too much; it’s not important.

I’ve had a few disasters, with my marriage break-up and my partner, Serge, taking his own life 15 years ago. He was a beautiful soul, but he was a soldier in Afghanistan and it did a lot of harm. His body was missing for four months, and that took a lot out of me.

Coming to work was a good distraction. Beverly’s a very good counsellor. I spoke to her a lot about my grief and she’d give me beautiful cards and gifts, like a trinket box for Serge’s jewellery. She’s just a good friend – somebody I can wholly trust. I can tell her everything and I know it won’t go anywhere. She’s like a sister. She’s there to support me, but she’s in a difficult situation herself, in a marriage that’s not always what she wants it to be.

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We both love nursing and don’t plan to retire. It gives me such a great sense of purpose. With COVID-19, nobody knew what was going to happen. When it all started here, there was a stillness and uncertainty. We were told, “If you’re over 65, you’re going to die.” I had one doctor tell me, “You should go home: if you get it, you won’t make it.” I thanked him for his concern and told him I believed in destiny: what will be, will be.

I’d text Beverly and ask how she was going and what she was thinking, and she’d text me back; we supported each other. From Bev, I get lots of warmth and understanding, and just somebody I can relate to. The other day we were having photos taken for a hospital publication and I looked at her and said, “Beverly, I love you.” She said, “I love you, Olga.” I don’t think I’ve ever told her that before.

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