‘It was like putting on an old pair of shoes’, says Kirsty Ricketts about temporarily returning as a critical care theatre nurse during the Covid-19 pandemic. By Juliet Dennis.
Q. What’s your background?
A. I have been a travel counsellor for the last eight years but before that I was in nursing for 10 years. I worked as a critical care theatre nurse in Salisbury District Hospital. I developed a latex allergy due to the amount of exposure I had to it in my job. At the time, they tried to work out how to make the environment latex-free but it was very difficult.
I needed a job working from home because I could control my environment. Latex is in everything, even chocolate wrappers, so I couldn’t work in an office. I had booked holidays with Travel Counsellors and saw they had a training academy. I grew up abroad and was always the one planning holidays, so I decided to train as a travel counsellor.
Q. How did you find the switch to becoming a homeworker after nursing?
A. It was difficult at times, but it was sink or swim. Being a travel counsellor I could focus on the areas I was interested in, like tailor-made holidays, and really get my teeth into that.
I’m quite techy, so I got my head around the systems quite easily. Learning all the destinations was harder. All the tour operators and tourist boards are so good at training and the support has been brilliant. Learning to say ‘no’ to certain booking requests – like price-matching when it’s not worth my time – has been difficult.
“Being a travel counsellor I could focus on the areas I was interested in, like tailor-made holidays, and really get my teeth into that.”
Q. How was business before the Covid-19 pandemic hit?
A. My business was where I wanted it to be; I had the work-life balance. I could have pushed it further and harder but it was how I wanted it for my life at the time. I wasn’t working full-time; the job allowed me to work mornings and do the house and family bits in the afternoon. Head office helped me find local networking groups and that’s been the best route for me to get bookings. Around 80% to 90% of my business comes from the community networking groups I’m in.
Q. Why did you decide to go back to nursing temporarily?
A. I thought travel would stop, and I was not going to encourage people to travel in July and August when we didn’t know what was happening. I got back in touch with Salisbury hospital. They were recruiting; their staff levels had dropped and I knew it was something I could do. It was not driven by money.
I couldn’t sit at home and twiddle my thumbs. They asked if I had any experience and when I told them I had worked there for 10 years I was put straight back in. Having not been exposed to latex for eight years I was OK, and hospitals have come a long way in that time to become latex‑free. I started at the end of April and worked for about six weeks.
“I got back in touch with Salisbury hospital. They were recruiting; their staff levels had dropped and I knew it was something I could do.”
Q. What was it like returning to your former job after a long gap?
A. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes! I still knew half the staff in the department, so it wasn’t really a problem. Once I was actually in theatre, it wasn’t that different. All elective surgery was cancelled but we were doing ‘life and limb surgery’. We had a lot of broken bones to deal with and only half the theatres were in operation as the other half were converted to intensive care.
Q. What about your travel business when you were on your nursing shifts?
A. I worked on my business on my days off. It meant a lot of juggling and evening ‘meetings’ with clients. I pushed all travel work into my days off; it was a case of being very organised. I have got some good colleagues at Travel Counsellors who helped and contacted tour operators if I couldn’t get hold of them and had to go to work. I set up one as permanent holiday cover for me. Most clients were understanding. Now I’m back, it’s still quiet, but I have some bookings for 2021.
What was it like working for the NHS during such a crisis?
As a nurse you are hardened to most of it. You just have to be. I have seen so many things during my career as a nurse. You just turn your ‘nurse mode’ on and get on with your job. You have to leave your emotions at the door.
I enjoyed being able to be useful and it was good to see old colleagues. There were times I questioned why I was doing it and then I’d see someone and they’d say ‘thanks’ and ‘nice to see you’, and that made it worthwhile.
“You could not come out of theatre to eat or go to the toilet during an operation, which could sometimes be for six to eight hours, so it was quite draining.”
What had changed in theatre was all the coronavirus regulations: putting on full PPE and wearing visors and all of it for a whole shift. You came out looking like a prune! You could not come out of theatre to eat or go to the toilet during an operation, which could sometimes be for six to eight hours, so it was quite draining.
It was good to go back but I’m glad I’m not still full-time in the NHS. In the back of my mind I knew I could say no to shifts if I had a lot of travel work to do.
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