Royal Stories: Sally Spencer
Sally Spencer is the matron in charge of Intensive Care at the Royal Derby Hospital - and has worked in the department for 25 years.
When the going gets tough in hospital, Sally Spencer and her team are there to give round-the-clock care to those in need of it. It's a department that most of us hope that we will never have to use - but it is a busy unit.
"My job involves looking after up to 16 intensive care patients and all the staff that care for them," says Sally.
"We have more than 100 nursing staff, a whole team of doctors and health care assistants and we liaise daily with our pharmacist, dietician and all the other members of our multi-disciplinary team."
Sally's department is made up of two separate areas: one is reserved for those patients who are in most need of constant care and each patient is looked after by one nurse.
Sally says: "The other area is a little less intense - where we nurse our level-two, high-dependency patients... so it's a little bit more cosy, a bit more friendly.
"With accident and emergency being here now we never know what's going to come through the door.
"We get patients from road traffic accidents, patients who have developed pneumonia out in the community - we also have major surgical cases through the doors."
Sally Spencer at work in Intensive Care
Sally started her career working in intensive care in 1984 and says a lot has changed during her working life: "It was less busy - there was less technology... but as things have improved, the whole ethos of intensive care - the whole expectation of everybody [has grown] - we can cure people now that we couldn't have cured ten or 15 years ago."
However, working in an ITU has its ups and downs - and the nature of the job is that Sally's staff have to deal with fatalities - meaning that the job can sometimes be emotionally stressful: "We try not [let it get to us]. If the patient has been with us for some time and you get to know the family really well it does pull it pulls at the heart strings and we do get upset.
"Fortunately, our mortality rate isn't that high and we have much satisfaction and success than we do 'failure'.
"Where people are not going to make it, we try to make it dignified and comfortable for both the family and the person concerned."
And nearly 30 years down the line Sally says she can still remember her first day on the job and the huge sense pride she felt: "In those days (1981) I had a pale blue dress with a starched, white pinny and a white cap with a stripe on it. And the first day I walked into the DRI's main corridor and we were all trouping down... and we felt like the bee's knees. It's a really strong memory and I can still smell the smell now - the antiseptic smell - it was just wonderful.
"Through my student days, the ward sisters were terrifying - they were all what you might think as the 'Hattie Jacques matron' - they were very strict. The beds had to be in the right line and your sheets had to be just so and the curtains had to be just so.
"I'm not sure that I'd want to go back completely to those days but there were some good traditions there. I think nursing lost a little bit of its focus at some point in the early 2000s but we're getting back there now with the re-advent of the matron and the figurehead."
And Sally is just as busy outside the ward - she spends a huge amount of time researching her family history - and, so far has reached back to the 1700s.
last updated: 03/07/2009 at 16:55