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Sarah Pocock, neurosurgical nurse

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Sarah, 26, is a senior staff nurse at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for Children. She lives with boyfriend Steve, a retail auditor, in East Dulwich, London

My job is complex, fast paced and no two days are the same – I look after children who need neurosurgery to relieve seizures caused by epilepsy, newborns who have suffered a bleed on the brain due to a traumatic birth, or patients with congenital conditions.

If I’m on a day shift, I get up at 5.30am, which is so early I can’t face food so I just shower, get dressed and leave the house at 6.15am to catch the bus and train to the hospital in London’s Holborn. My first stop is Starbucks – I’ve been going there for my latte before every shift for the last five years. When I arrive, I change into my uniform of navy blue trousers and a royal blue tunic. Working here is tough on the feet as I’m standing for 12 hours a day, so I wear Shape-ups by Skechers shoes – if I’m walking all day I may as well try to tone my bum!

I get straight onto the ward at 7.10am to chat with my patients’ families. I’m usually the nurse in charge, which means I’m responsible for five other nurses, three students, a paediatric doctor, and 12 patients, plus I work alongside five consultants. At 7.45am, the night staff brief us on each patient’s condition then I have a more in-depth handover for patients that I’m specifically allocated. Next, I do anything from arranging discharges to finding beds for emergency admissions. I’ve been taking charge of the ward for two and a half years and I’ve never had to turn a patient away because we don’t have a bed.

After receiving care from us, it’s amazing to see how well some children recover

When you first start as a nurse, you become emotionally attached and when your first patient dies, it’s like a family member dying. I had to learn when to withdraw – I need to be a resource to help the family by answering questions and looking after their child – and not getting upset. Children with brain or spinal tumours are the most challenging part of my job, especially when I’m in charge, because we’re at the start of the family’s horrific journey. It can begin with common symptoms like headache and vomiting, so it’s a massive shock for the family to then be told the child has a tumour and they’re off to hospital. Most of the time, the child doesn’t understand what’s wrong and the family are too distressed to talk so we have to pick up the pieces. We do an MRI scan to see whether the tumour is accessible and how much could be removed by operating. We help to prepare the child for the nine-hour – or longer – surgery.

Post-operatively, it can be quite a shock as the child looks like a boxer after a fight – head bandaged, eyes swollen shut and tubes everywhere. Major trauma cases also really stick with me. A child with a head injury looks so helpless but after receiving care from us, it’s amazing to see how well some recover. I had a boy in a serious condition but four weeks later he was wide awake and calling me snot-face! Having a sense of humour helps – we dance in the corridors to make a patient laugh and the staff lighten the mood by playing pranks.

My manager always tells me off for not taking my break – I’m supposed to have 30 minutes for breakfast at 10am but I’m usually so busy that I don’t stop until 4pm, when I have lunch – a salad or prawn sandwich.

At the end of my shift, I record a handover for the night staff. My shifts change week to week, so I could do two day shifts on Saturday and Sunday then flip straight into a night shift from 7.45pm to 8.15am on Monday. When I first started, I found it really tough but I’m used to it now – I just make sure that I sleep in and do as little as possible on the day leading up to the night shift.

If I’m working the next day, I need my sleep so when I get home at 9.45pm, I watch EastEnders on iPlayer and chat to Steve before heading straight to bed. On my days off, I make sure I have something fun planned – like going to our favourite Italian restaurant, Locale – otherwise I’d constantly think about work. I wish it was easy to switch off, but it’s not.

Cycle round Ibiza for GOSH; gosh.org/ibiza

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