I’ve been a nurse for nearly 50 years, I still want to make a difference every day.

For International Nurse's Day, we spoke with Nurse Sue Ebbage. A nurse for almost 50 years and a Marie Curie Nurse for 27.

Marie Curie

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Sue Ebbage began her nursing career in November 1975 and has been in the profession for nearly 50 years. She has spent more than half her working life as a Marie Curie nurse.

What made you choose nursing?

"When I left school, you either stayed at home and looked after your parents or got married. You were a nurse, a teacher, or became a secretary. My mum thought I'd make a good nurse. Maybe she saw something in a 17-and-a-half-year-old girl that I didn't see in myself. The rapport with patients I loved from day one. I'm a helper at the end of the day. I suppose that's continued all through my life. Everyone needs some care at some point, at differing levels, degrees, complexities, and lengths. I've always been fortunate enough to be able to assist with that. And it's still a job that I love.”

How have things changed from when you first began nursing?

“Compared to when I started, everything's quicker. Everything's treated more quickly today. But much the same as now, you were interested in people's families, their animals, the disappointments at their jobs, all those sorts of things. When I walk out of a patient's house or sit with them at night, I make sure they feel safe and secure, that they've got everything at hand.”

What is your favourite part of the job?

“Listening and picking up cues is one of my favourite parts of the job. Founder of the hospice movement Dame Cecily Saunders and fellow Dr Robert Twycross said that if you identify or ask the patient to identify the thing that is bothering them the most, if you try and solve that, then lots of other problems underneath will be solved. It is so true. Somebody might say, ‘I'm so fed up, I'm so upset’, but then you unpick that they've been unable to pay their gas bill. You might not do it for them, but you facilitate how they can do it and then, amazingly, you see how other problems are resolved. You're listening to the cues to try and see which roads they're going to end up at, which is where the big problem is. So that was hard work, learning that, how to not miss cues, to listen and pick them up. That was a very rewarding part of my work and still is. I remember looking after a lady who was bedbound. I used to help her wash in bed. It took probably half an hour. But in that time, we'd talk about her nutrition, what was bothering her, when her son was coming. She could talk to me about anything and everything. That really helps.”

What qualities have made you such a good nurse?

“I'm quite grounded. There are things that get to you sometimes, if you're busy or feel people are pulling on you when they can do it themselves. I'll also try to help people or do some extra work. That can get me down occasionally. But there's not much I don't feel I can cope with. That sounds big-headed but nothing much fazes me. I was off sick for six months and I was desperate to get back to work, I missed it. I missed the routine, the discipline, it’s what I'd been used to all my working life, from the age of 18.
For some of us, you just can't take the nursing and caring aspect out of us. It's ingrained in us. We'll always be nurses, trying to help people.”

How do you manage the difficult days?

“There's always something to learn on difficult days. That's why they've been difficult, so you learn and move forward. I've just been very, very fortunate to have a job I've liked and to be able to help a lot of people. And they've helped me. That's the other thing about nursing. When you go to see a patient, you feel humbled by the care that family are giving to them, the sacrifice they're making, how lovely that is to see."

"If people ask me what I am, I wouldn't say, ‘I'm a Senior Nurse at Marie Curie.’ I'd say, ‘I'm a nurse.’ I don't think the title is important, I think the 'nurse' is important. I'm still just Sue. Just Nurse Sue.”

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