After 45 years, nurse Carol still never knows what to expect on a night shift

For Carol Rushton, one of the longest serving nurses at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, the best part of her job is not knowing what’s about to come through the door.

Carol, a senior perioperative practitioner, works nights in the theatres at Hull Royal Infirmary. Before midnight, she helps care for patients requiring routine surgery from needing their appendix removed to back surgery and the repair of perforated bowels.

But, after midnight, only people facing “life or limb-threatening emergencies” are brought to theatre for life-saving surgery after accidents or attacks, major traumatic events or for surgery to save their arms or legs.

“I love not knowing what we’re going to get coming in,” said Carol, 61. “The one thing we do say is when it’s a bank holiday or a full moon, tighten your seat belts.”

To mark International Nurses Day on May 12, celebrated around the world every year to mark the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is shining a spotlight on some of its nurses.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Nurses Registration Act, created in 1919 to establish a register of nurses and setting up the General Nursing Council.

Carol has clocked up almost 45 years’ service, beginning her career back in 1974.

She grew up on Hessle Road before moving to Willerby with her family in 1967. Although she wanted to work in banking, her maths wasn’t strong so she decided to follow a friend who had started pre-nursing training in 1974 at the age of 16.

Known as Daffodil or Buttercup nurses because of their bright yellow uniforms, they spent half of the week at Hull College and the other half working in hospitals including Hull Royal, Princess Royal and De La Pole Hospital.

Carol started her official nurse training in 1976, working in neurosurgery when she qualified as a State Registered Nurse in 1979. The following year, she married husband Paul, an ambulance man who went on to become one of the first fully qualified paramedics in 1989, and they had two children.

Keen to broaden her nursing skills, Carol worked in infectious diseases and with elderly medical patients in the 1980s but realised her heart lay in surgical nursing.

“I missed the bustle of surgery and looking after patients who perhaps needed more intensive nursing after surgery but jobs were hard to come by in the 1980s,” she said.

Hull Royal was looking for theatre staff so Carol seized the opportunity and spoke to the nursing officers who arranged for her to start in November 1981. She’s been there ever since, apart from a brief time in the mid-80s when she worked in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Each night shift, she co-ordinates the workload for Hull Royal Infirmary, ensuring each theatre has the right staff and the right mix of skills. Carol and the team look after patients before their operations, during surgery and in the initial recovery period before they are moved into ICU or back onto a ward.

Because of the nature of the job, there are some patients who don’t make it. Carol uses her experience to support more junior members of the team so they can be ready for the next patient arriving at hospital with a life-threatening emergency.

“I try to help people after they’ve seen things they might not be used to seeing or have ever experienced,” she said. “When you’re in charge of running theatres, you do get a lot of junior staff coming through so it’s important to support them.

“I always try to advise people to leave work at work, to go back to their families and be with them but it can and does still affect me.

“There will always be the cases that stick in your mind, the people that died when you weren’t expecting them to or the ones that experience unforeseen complications.

“You always remember them, you learn from them but we have to move on.”

There have been many high points in a career spanning five decades. But with a desire to support organ donation and having worked with transplant teams over the years, being asked to be part of the scrub team in the operating theatre with renowned transplant surgeon Professor Giles Toogood ranks high on her list.

She said: “He came to us to retrieve organs from a patient for transplant surgery and used to bring his own scrub team but, this time, something happened and I got to scrub in with him. I had never seen anything like that before.

“I’ve worked with some fantastic people over the years and I couldn’t do my job without the support of every member of the theatre team.”

It’s a tough job, full of pressure and requiring all of Carol’s experience and nursing skills but she wouldn’t swap it for the world.

“I don’t see myself as some kind of Florence Nightingale with my lamp,” she said. “I just think nursing is who I am and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”