‘I’m quite resilient – I guess [it’s] years of being a nurse’

March 6, 2023

She survived a deadly attack and, most recently, a cyclone that destroyed her home. But mental health nurse Ra Kupa is determined to rebuild and get back to work — and can still make strangers laugh.

Ra Kupa takes a break from clearing “thick as” mud that filled her four-year-old Eskdale home during Cyclone Gabrielle for an interview with Kaitiaki.

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It’s an exhausting reminder of her recent brush with death, but has also brought her neighbourhood together, the 67-year-old mental health nurse says.

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She is still coming to terms with the speed of the flooding.

Nurse Ra Kupa’s home was overwhelmed by flood waters in Cyclone Gabrielle. On their return, she and her partner found their home filled with mud and silt.

“It only took four minutes from being just below your ankle to being right up to my head.”

In the early hours of February 14, Kupa and her fiance Maggie Braviner were woken to the disaster by their dog Rusty and called 111.

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“They told us to sit on the kitchen bench, which we did.”

Soon, Kupa, who is 4ft 7 in (140cm) tall, was forced to swim as the water rose inside her home.

“I’m usually a good swimmer, but when you’ve got a current coming as well . . . “

A neighbour, Ben, came to their aid just in time.

“I was just getting tired and then I saw the flashlights so that gave me hope, and the next minute Ben was breaking down our doors,” Kupa said. 

“Had I not seen the lights I think I would have just given up.”

Ben broke down the couple’s back door and told them to put Rusty on a sofa, which had been picked up by the swirling currents.

Using the couch as a flotation device, they paddled to Ben’s property and managed to climb on to the roof of the garden shed.

Ra Kupa’s dog Rusty
Ra Kupa’s dog Rusty alerted Kupa and her partner to the flooding. Photo: Kathleen Calderwood, ABC News.

Finally, they made it out of the raging torrent of water to the safety of nearby properties which had not been flooded.

Kupa partly attributes her ability to survive and cope with the devastation to her profession, but also to the support of colleagues, and the local community.

Ra Kupa’s home was filled with mud and silt.

“I’m feeling inspired because all of us along the street are working towards getting our houses back. Also that I’ve been humbled by all the nursing staff from where I work, and from the other wards, because unfortunately I’m quite well known –  I’ve got the gift of the gab.

“I’m quite resilient – I guess [it’s] years of being a nurse, and I feel terrible because I can’t get back to work because I’ve been bruised all over and my right hand isn’t working . . . “

Kupa’s Gabrielle experience is her second brush with death since she turned 60. About four years ago, she survived a carotid artery aneurysm after being strangled by a patient.

After recovering from surgery to remove blood clots from her brain and satisfying her employer she was emotionally ready,  Kupa returned to work.

This time she says she will do the same, when she can.

“I’ve been working in mental health as a registered nurse and I want to get back there as soon as I can – I’m a do-er.”

Ra Kupa and volunteers who came to help clean up her flood-damaged home.
Ra Kupa and volunteers who came to help clean up her flood-damaged home. Photo: Kathleen Calderwood, ABC News.

Kupa said she was inspired and humbled by the generosity shown to her by neighbours, strangers, and her nursing colleagues.

After escaping from their flooded home, the couple and their dog were taken in by neighbours for two nights and were now staying with a couple who own a bed and breakfast business.

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View from Ra Kupa and Maggie Braviner’s home in Eskdale, taken a week after Cyclone Gabrielle hit. Photo: Corena Hodgson, Photography by Corena.

As to her future, Kupa says she will “definitely, definitely” rebuild her home in Eskdale, before adding with a laugh, “this is our last home.” 

“We’re hoping this doesn’t happen for another 100 years – then I definitely won’t be around.”