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Heroes of the RUH – Niki Hartley

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Meet Niki Hartley, Senior Sister on Waterhouse Ward at the Royal United Hospitals Bath.

Niki likens herself to a cat with nine lives that has used up five of them, having been caught up in five disasters or near misses including:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Hurricane Ivan
  • A tornado
  • An earthquake
  • A crash landing at Heathrow where she had to use a shute to escape the plane.

Having survived these and having worked through the first wave of the COVID pandemic, Niki says she feels strong and shares her experiences as a nurse:

“I joined the Medical Records team at the RUH when I was 19. I always wanted to be a nurse, but I knew it was more a vocation, not just a job, so I decided to get a few years life experience first, before I started nursing training when I was 24. I’ve worked in various parts of the hospital but I absolutely love my Waterhouse ‘family’.

“The staff here make me really, really proud more than anything – how they go above and beyond every day. One example is when we had a homeless gentleman on the ward – one of the staff took his clothes home to wash and iron them for him. That might not seem like a big deal, but to that patient it meant the world. That just shows how much they care. My team work so hard. There is no hesitation to provide cover when another staff member is sick, because they know our patients still need to be cared for.

“We have 13 different nationalities on our team, so once a month we have a culture week where everyone brings in a dish from their own country.  They bring in the most delicious food. But our good old cheese and pickle and scones with clotted cream have proved very popular too!

“Another example of how the staff really make a difference to our patients was when we threw a Remembrance Sunday party last year. I brought in a brigadier and a lady who had just retired from the Army. They came dressed in their uniforms and with all their medals to chat to the patients. It was really lovely to mark the occasion because, certainly with the generation of patients who we look after they will probably have served in the army, done national service or perhaps lost parents or grandparents in either of the World Wars.

“It was so lovely to give them this opportunity as they couldn’t go to church and couldn’t make it down to the Atrium as they were too poorly. So we brought Remembrance Sunday to them. One of our staff crocheted them all a poppy. Frankie from the Art at the Heart team joined us and sang some war-time songs. It was such a special day for everyone.

“We must remember that behind our patients there is a person for whom this day really means something. It’s such a shame that we won’t be able to do something like that this year – we are going to have to be a bit inventive. We’ll work out what we can do within the rules, so the patients don’t miss out.

“That includes other times of the year as well. When we were a COVID ward in the first wave we gave all our Easter eggs to the patients. And we will be planning a wonderful Christmas for them too.

“The whole team will be working over the Christmas period. What I love about Christmas is that it’s a period of time when people are kinder and nicer to each other. There is this shared spirit of happiness and generosity. People think about those who they perhaps haven’t thought of during the rest of the year. Whether people celebrate Christmas or not, it makes people pause and self-reflect. It’s that shared global feeling that something magical is going to happen. Oh, and I love my yearly trip to Lacock!

“The COVID pandemic had a huge impact on the hospital.  It’s been so difficult when patients aren’t allowed visitors.  We used Facetime and the phone for them to keep in touch with their friends and relatives. We made a pledge to each other that we would never let anyone die alone – we managed to keep that promise, and will make it again this time.

“It had a big impact on my home life as well. Both my partner and I are key workers and we have a young son. If any of us got COVID it would have serious repercussions. During the first wave I had to basically isolate within my own home.  As soon as I got home I would have a shower. I washed my laundry separately, slept in the spare room and didn’t share a sofa with them. The toughest bit was not being able to put my son to bed or hug them.

“The pandemic has taught me to worry less about the little things, yet at the same time it has made me appreciate the smaller things in life, if that makes sense.

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