The childhood ambition that became a reality for nurse Louisa O’Brien

Louisa O'Brien, as a little girl

Louisa O'Brien, as a little girl - Credit: Archant

All children have an idea about what they want to be when they grow up but only a handful make their childhood dream a reality.

Louisa O'Brien

Louisa O'Brien - Credit: Archant

Louisa O’Brien is one of them. But what is the reality of full time nursing?

When I was a little girl, we had a dressing up box crammed full of fairy costumes and princess outfits.

Whenever I had friends to play we would race upstairs and I would watch as they adorned themselves with tiaras and laugh as they paraded round the room.

Then I would reach into the bottom of the pile of silky dresses and pull out my old nurse’s uniform.


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You see, I could never see the value of a life decked out in all that finery. That just seemed like a ridiculous waste of time.

Besides which, I had teddies who needed medicine and dolls to stick plasters on to.

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I was the same age my eight-year-old twins Ruby and Sebastian are now when I announced to my mother that I was going to be a nurse.

“I know,” she said. “And you will be a natural.”

Almost 30 years later I have had a wonderful career with the NHS which started when I was just 19 and living in a nurses’ home in Ipswich.

I studied for three years before gaining a diploma in adult nursing and secured my first proper job as a nurse on the Needham Ward specialising in cardiology at Ipswich Hospital.

I had the most fantastic role model in the ward manager, Linda Brewster, who taught us the merit of hard work.

We were expected to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in and there was a huge emphasis on the importance of individual patient care.

Nursing was – and still is - very full on. It is not an easy career by any means.

You are expected to handle a range of very emotional cases on a daily basis and some of the work can be physically demanding.

But it’s also extremely rewarding.I have held the soft hands of children who need reassurance as they are given their immunisations and the wrinkled and weatherbeaten hands of elderly men and women who are taking their last breath.

I have helped people come to terms with the diagnosis of crippling, devastating illnesses and I have broken bad news to many family members and held them as they wept. I have also seen people get better and waved as they have left the hospital with a smile.

I have made others comfortable, given them hope, reassured them and offered them dignity. One moment that I’ll always remember is the time I took an elderly gentleman for a shower and helped dress him in a clean shirt and trousers.

It seemed so insignificant at the time but he later wrote to the chief executive of the hospital trust to say that the simple gesture of removing his pyjamas and putting him in fresh clothing had made him feel human again.

Nursing isn’t always about measuring out medicine and giving injections.

It is also about care – something I feel I was born to do.

Sometimes I find it difficult to share myself between home and work. I have been married for 13 years to Terry, an avionics technician in the Army, and my husband and beautiful children are my whole world.

But there have been times when I have abandoned them all to look after someone who needs me more.

I’ve spent Christmases in hospital. I have missed birthdays to attend to the sick. I have been absent from family gatherings to fill in emergency shifts.

Luckily for me, nursing is a tight-knit community. I have incredible friendships with the other women I work with, especially those I have met through Poppy Nursing Services.

And like me, many of them have young families and like the flexibility of choosing shifts that fit around them.

I think we provide a gold standard of care to patients – something that is of paramount importance and often gets overlooked in the box ticking and red tape of day-to-day administration.

Nurses are the frontline in care and the vast majority of us go into it simply because we love it.

We want to make a difference.

And many have dreamt about doing so since we were little girls.

Louisa works as part of the Poppy Nursing and Care Services team. The agency supplies nurses and care assistants to hospital trusts and care homes across the country.

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