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Sue’s heart has been in nursing, retirement looms

Sue Martin has spent the last 41 years and nine months doing what she always dreamed about – being a nurse.

Yet when she finishes her final shift as charge nurse manager in the cardiac care unit at Waikato Hospital on Friday, she will not be looking back or aiming to keep her hand in by working part time.

“I’ve just renewed my licence but once it’s gone, it’s gone.” Instead, if she ever returns to Waikato Hospital it will probably be as a volunteer. “I feel really comfortable being able to walk out on Friday and saying goodbye to many of my staff who I’ve made good friends with over the years and say to my grandchildren in years to come that’s where nana used to work up on that hill and it’s a great place to go.”

Sue, 60, started training as a nurse at Waikato Hospital in 1972. As a girl living in Rotorua, she always wanted to be a nurse. “I had the nurse’s outfit as a child. I came from a family of teachers so I was determined I was not going to follow in their footsteps. “I remember in my high school years volunteering at Rotorua Hospital and I worked all school holidays dishing out the meals just so I could get my foot in the door of being a nurse.

I always wanted to be a children’s nurse then a position came up in cardiac care

“I loved the fact of wearing a uniform – in those days it was a real stiff uniform. I did all the trays, for nothing, I got paid nothing. A friend of a friend got me that job and I thought this could be me. I looked at those nurses thinking oh wow.” She graduated in 1976 and her first placement was in paediatrics. “I always wanted to be a children’s nurse then a position came up in cardiac care. It sounded exciting. It was the thing to do back then.”

So in March 1977 she joined cardiology and it’s there she has been ever since.

The change has been significant. Then there were six beds and patients over 65 were not allowed into the unit, they went instead to a medical ward. “We treated our patients with bed rest and a few pills and treated the complications.” “When I started nursing, patients would be in the ward for weeks.

They had a five-day mobilisation programme – first day complete bed rest, they weren’t allowed to do anything, and they just lay there.

The next day, sit in the chair for 10 minutes, then the following day sit in the chair for half an hour and get wheeled to the toilet.

The fourth day they could go to the shower with a nurse, the fifth day they could walk around their bed.

They spent weeks here.” Nurses’ roles were different too. Sue remembers part of her duties involved setting up a meal tray for the doctors. “I came through a system of hierarchal nursing.

Sometimes you would walk into the room (at Waikato) and all these eyes would look up at you and say ‘is this my day?’

We were expected to wait on the doctors. Today I am asked for my opinion and they (doctors) value it. I say to my team, ‘you’ve got to ask the doctors those questions’. Nurses should do that.” Cardiac surgery began at Waikato in the 1980s. Before that, patients would wait for up to six weeks in a ward to go up to Greenlane Hospital in Auckland. “Sometimes you would walk into the room (at Waikato) and all these eyes would look up at you and say ‘is this my day?’”

Before cardiac surgery, Waikato pioneered angioplasties (A coronary angioplasty is a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries). “Technology is changing, cardiology is still going to change and I can see in the future we are going to have more cardiology interventions than we are cardiac surgery. “Already we work together with cardiac surgery; we work in a wonderful cluster together. We’ve opened up hybrid catheter labs here, they are the future.”

A catheterisation laboratory (cathlab) is an examination room with diagnostic equipment used to visualise the arteries and chambers of the heart and to treat any stenosis or abnormality found. “We are going to be doing more interventions like those rather than opening up people’s chests,” said Sue.

What still upsets her are the people who get a chance at life through either surgery or an intervention who then continue to abuse their bodies. “Some of our medical staff say: ‘this is up to you now. You’ve got to be responsible for your health. You have to give up smoking and take your medications.’”

Another worrying trend are the number of young people having heart attacks

Some of them don’t and they come back months later. Another worrying trend are the number of young people having heart attacks. “We’re seeing more of them because of all the different drugs on the street.” And another trend is the athletes presenting with arrhythmias (a disorder of the heart rate or heart rhythm). “We’re getting lots of athletes who are having (cardiac) ablations, before they would put up with it, put up with a fast heartbeat for example, now they don’t.”

Sue is proud of her time at Waikato, full of praise for the people she worked alongside but now it is time for family.

Husband Greg retired last year. “We are going to travel and I’ve got three grandchildren, one in Australia and two in Auckland and I want to spend time with them.

We are also both into cycling, we love tramping and walking and stuff like that. We’ve decided we can do those things now. “Waikato Hospital has been a big part of my life. I feel it is time to go. I am starting to see that things are being recycled. Now there is another generation of wonderful nurses. I can walk out of this place know my family will be safe here if they ever need it.”


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Email: news@waikatodhb.health.nz

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