'Are you looking for a job?’ a dear friend asked me one day and explained she was moving back to Northern Ireland and the Renal Unit where she was working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) needed someone to replace her.

This was July 1997 and having taken a career break from banking in 1994 after the birth of my first child I was looking for something that would fit in with child care on a temporary basis until I needed to return to my banking position.

I had never had any interest in nursing and needed my friend to explain what a Renal Unit was but yes, I was interested as the job entailed a twilight shift from 6pm – midnight 2 evenings a week, perfect. It had to be a step up from packing sugar which is how I had spent the previous Christmas trying to earn some extra money.

A few days later I was invited to go for an interview, which was very different to the interviews today, which I don’t think I would get through now, it was an informal chat which ended with me being asked when I could start and could I complete an application!

I started working at Ipswich Renal Unit on the 4th August 1997. The unit had about 40 patients and although it had 2 shifts running during the day the then 3 twilights per week had only recently started. There was no induction, or supernumerary period, it wasn’t necessary as there were only 7 patient bays, and it was easy to pick up and learn on the job, and the nursing staff were so helpful. I started to learn about dialysis and how it helped to give patients who had renal failure lifesaving treatment. I had never been very good with blood but all the blood that I saw was (usually) contained inside plastic tubes and so I soon adjusted to working on the unit.

One night in January 1998 we had a major flood on the unit and had to move impromptu to a new unit that was due to be ready in a few weeks’ time but we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the official date to move and so it was all hands on deck to move straight into the new unit, and get to work, we hardly knew where anything was and it was a big challenge by the whole team to pull of the move as quickly as we did, we now had 13 HD stations and a PD dept which had its own separate Home Haemodialysis training room.

After my second child was born at the end of 1998, I returned to work doing two shifts per week, picking up extra shifts as the position required.

Then in about 2010 I was asked if I would be interested in training to become the Home Haemodialysis technician, this involved visiting patients’ homes and ‘cleaning’ the RO and taking water samples from both the RO & dialysis machine. I loved this job; it meant travelling all over Suffolk & North Essex and I met a variety of patients in this role. I continued to work as an HCA and travelled in the community 1 day per week, it was the perfect balance of working for me. Then out of the blue I was asked to start working in the office doing some clerical work for one day per week so I increased my working hours and took on the additional role.

In 2012 when the then Clerical Assistant left, I stepped into a new role of Senior Clerical Assistant, this was an excellent opportunity for me to stay working at the unit but have more regular hours now both my children were in high school, there was a lot to learn, but after 15 years I was happy to relinquish early morning and late-night working.

In 2014 the time was right to let someone else take over the role of Home Haemodialysis technician so I could focus solely on administration work supporting the team at Ipswich & Aldeburgh.

Covid was a difficult time for everyone but one day I was working on the unit and the next I was working from home having been classed as ’vulnerable’ and so a new phase started, Skype meetings to check how I was and phone calls and emails asking me to pick up tasks that could be done remotely, I felt I was unable to support the team in the way I would have liked but was fortunate to be able to feel useful and keep working.

On my eventual return it was like starting a new job all over again as even in a few months a lot of things had changed, but again with support from fantastic colleagues I adjusted and it soon felt as if I had never been away.

I have to be honest and say the work is challenging and I think has become more so over the years as the patient numbers have increased to somewhere around 160 at Ipswich and the overall demographic of patients is more elderly and infirm and therefore require more assistance than in past years.

Have I ever thought about moving on – yes would be the answer – but something always stops me or the timing has never been quite right, I feel I am making a difference, however small, each day in someone’s life experience and there is a comfort to be taken from having a good understanding of where you work and what is expected of you.

On the whole I have to say I have loved working at the Ipswich Renal Unit for nearly 26 years, and I still learn new things almost every day. I have worked with a myriad of staff over the years and come into contact with many more patients & their families, I have currently worked for 5 manager, 3 different dialysis companies and Ipswich unit has undergone 3 major renovations which now comprise a 24-station unit and an expanded Home Therapies/PD dept, and a satellite unit at Aldeburgh.

Would I do it all over again, something that was supposed to be temporary until my children were at school, who knows but I can’t imagine not working for the Ipswich Renal Unit. It’s been such a massive part of my working life, with all its tears and laughter.

What am I like to work with……for that you would need to ask my colleagues 😊