Liverpool Cardiothoracic Centre

It’s now October, 1995, I’ve qualified and joined the team at the Liverpool Cardiothoracic centre. I managed to get a post on the intensive care unit (ICU). I was allocated to work with an E grade nurse on each shift, shadowing them all day. I felt very green in amongst all the experienced staff, I hadn’t expected to feel so out of place. The change from being a third year student, knowing all I needed, to a newly qualified nurse not knowing anything hit me really hard. Sometimes I just stood there and felt like I was spinning as everyone moved around me knowing their role and job.

There was so much to learn. I’d go go home with piles of reading and a head full of different noises that had bleeped at me all day! My job started about the same time my parents moved to the other side of the country as my Dads job developed further. So this was a big period of change for me. Thankfully, my sister only lived in Bradford where she was training to be a physiotherapist and we spent lots of weekends and nights out together.

The ICU looked after patients post cardiac and thoracic surgery. The hospital was linked to five theatres, each one running every day and sometimes at night. Depending on how busy the ICU was we would see ten to twelve new admissions each day. Most patients would stay overnight and then go back to the ward the following day. Other more complicated operations required a longer stay. We looked after the occasional patient for longer then a week but for the majority of the time it was a rapid turnaround unit and very busy.

I made friends for life in the hospital. Dave, Alistair and I enjoyed working together and many nights out. We had a shared love of music and Guinness! By the following year Dave and I were sharing a house with two other lads just around the corner from Penny Lane. It was within walking distance to town and not too far to get to work, perfect! Just before I moved in with Dave I had helped a newly qualified occupational therapist move into the flat I was sharing. Her Mum and Dad had driven up from Weymouth to help her move in, it was six flights of stairs up to the flat so I helped with the heavy bits. As her Dad left for home he said “Look after Kate won’t you Paul”. Little did he expect me to marry her 4 years later!

Dave and I shared the house for about four months before we joined Alistair in a flat above a health food store ran by a friend we new, Jed. It was the four of us altogether. Well, the four of us plus Kate, who had moved with her friends into a house about a mile up the road from us. Our flat had no heating, a tiny kitchen and seemed to be constantly full of newspapers (a long story) but surrounded by takeaways and pubs we did out best to survive!

I loved working in the ICU but I needed a new challenge. There were promotions coming up but I wanted to try something different. I’d always had in mind joining the military. As a student nurse I’d attended a careers fare and it looked like the ideal future for me. I loved the idea of being at the forefront of ICU nursing. I knew that I could go in as an officer and look forward to excellent career advancement aswell as lots of fitness training. I’d spent the last 12 months at a fitness class ran by Merseyside fire brigade. Most of the firefighters were ex soldiers and I was extremely envious of their level of fitness. With Kate entwined in my life I didn’t think I could have a relationship that was beneficial to us both as well as being away for long parts of the year. So, having been inspired by the theatre team carrying out emergency heart surgery on the ICU, I applied to become a surgical scrub nurse.

It was not just the career change I needed though. This was the summer of 1996, I needed better hours. Dating someone who followed office hours was exhausting when you’re on nights/weekends and long days! I can remember one night when I was working on ICU. I’d completed a week of nights and before my last shift of the week I’d been invited out to go to the music festival on Matthew Street (a great place for live music). The European football cup had just finished so Liverpool was alive with people ready to have a good time.

The only way to do go out was to cut my sleep early and get the bus into town. Heading into work afterwards I felt great but by four o’clock in the morning working I was flagging. I was on my own, in a side room, looking after a stable but ventilated and sedated patient. With no one to talk to I was in danger of nodding off in between observation rounds and patient care episodes. Lots of coffee and no sitting down was the only answer. How I stayed awake on the ride home I’ll never know!