Secret Lives of Staff: This nurse is an indie-pop star

Bio-preparedness nurse educator Mary Wyer deals with deadly diseases by day and an international audience by night with her band Even As We Speak.

We’ve all had plans ruined by COVID-19 this year, but few can say it disrupted our musical career comeback.

Western Sydney LHD bio-preparedness nurse educator Mary Wyer was booked to play Cologne Popfest in Germany with her band Even As We Speak in March, before continuing with a European tour to celebrate their first album in more than 20 years.

Sadly COVID-19 had other plans as international flights were cancelled while the virus spread rapidly across Europe, which gave Mary plenty of work to do back home in preparing our District for the outbreak.

Her role involves the development, delivery and evaluation of educational programs for staff who manage patients with ‘high consequence infectious diseases’ such as Ebola.

During the COVID-19 pandemic she has worked with the infection prevention and control team, the State of Biopreparedness committee, and other WSLHD nurse educators to develop COVID-19 specific training programs around personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mary recently took up static trapeze and performs a routine in the band’s latest music video, Leaves.

Nursing, like music, has been a constant in Mary’s life from a young age.

“I was trained as a nurse in the hospital system straight out of high school,” Mary said.

“I did take a break to pursue music, and again as a single parent because it was a struggle to balance the shift work. I went into teaching for a while but teaching primary school students was definitely not for me. Now I teach nurses; it’s really a combination of those two paths.

“I enjoy teaching and I’m very passionate about health and nursing education.”

While her music career took her to the UK, USA and around Europe, it was an opportunity Mary almost fell into. She was dating the drummer of Even As We Speak when the band heard her sing and enlisted her skills as a back-up vocalist.

Eventually she became the lead vocalist as the band’s electronic indie-pop sound drew attention overseas in the late 1980s.

The band was looking forward to playing in London again before COVID-19 struck.

In 1993, the band uprooted their lives to chase the dream in England, releasing several singles and an album (Feral Pop Frenzy) on Sarah Records, three of which reached the Top 5 of the UK independent music charts.

In late 1993 they returned to Australia with the intention of having a short break – however that short break turned into years.

Fast-forward 22 years and influential British website NME declared Sarah Records the second-best indie label of all time, suddenly propelling acts like Even As We Speak back into the spotlight for a reunion tour.

The band has since recorded a new album Adelphi in their trademark musical style but lyrically inspired by middle age – which Mary admits “one might think is an awful idea for an album” – but instead the songs find poetry in the sometimes-difficult experience of middle age.

The band’s big break came through influential British DJ John Peel, who invited them to record one of his famous “Peel sessions” which led to a record contract.

They have also been busy filming video clips and performing online from the comfort of home.

Mary is hoping to tour again someday, but for now she’s focused on developing learning resources which will assist staff to to get through COVID-19 safely, and continuing with research in her passion area of video-reflexive methods as part of training.

“It’s one thing to apply PPE properly in a training exercise. It’s another thing entirely to do in the midst of the complexity of clinical work, where you have competing priorities and patient needs,” Mary said.

“People often act out of habit and may not be aware of the little things they’re doing that put them at risk. Video feedback can be an effective way for staff to become more aware of these habituated practices.

“Our clinical educators are fantastic and did such a great job rolling out PPE training to all staff. So, now the bio-preparedness team is working with our colleagues to draw on lessons learned during COVID-19 and to create a sustainable model of PPE training that will keep staff prepared for any future outbreaks or pandemics.

“It takes creative thinking and problem solving to make sure what we teach works in the real world environment healthcare staff work in every day.”