My shifts consisted of long days, late nights and early starts. The ward was always busy so I became used to not having breaks and holding off the need to go to the toilet.
This came at a cost. I was constantly tired and caught every bug that was going around the hospital. Eventually I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
I would often go to work in severe pain but carried on through my shift. I never took a day off sick because I loved my job and didn’t want to let my patients or team members down.
My determination to do well meant I quickly moved up the career ladder, becoming a sister after 18 months and a matron three years after qualifying. I was very proud to progress so fast but I soon realised it was having a lasting effect on my health.
I noticed that I was tired even after a good night’s sleep and recognised signs of burnout.
Towards the end of 2007 I left inpatient services to work in the community. I wanted to start a family and didn’t think that this would be possible within the shift pattern I was working.
My new role as a Specialist Nurse was very self-directed. I was responsible for my own diary and it was the first time in my short career that I had factored in a lunch break or time for a cup of tea.
There were days when an emergency meant that I missed lunch or finished late, but overall I kept to a routine of breaks every few hours.
I very quickly began to notice that my energy levels had improved and the symptoms of my IBS had all but gone too. I had put self-care higher up my list of priorities and it benefited the care I was able to give to my patients.
I returned to inpatient care some time later, in a management position. I ensured that all staff, including myself, took regular breaks. I even built in protected learning time so that staff were able to feel like they had the chance to reflect on their achievements.
I now look back at my 12 hour shifts and think ‘how on earth did I manage that?’ I denied myself basic human needs and didn’t once factor in my self-care.