19 July 2023

Vicky Gate: Caring in a crisis

Claire Brine interviews Vicky Gate

Photo of Vicky Gate holding a ukulele.

As the UK celebrates 75 years of the NHS this month, nurse and Salvationist Vicky Gate (Preston) reflects on the joys and challenges of life in a paediatric A&E and explains how her Christian faith inspires her work.

‘When kids come to A&E feeling scared,’ says paediatric sister Vicky Gate, ‘I tell them: “Don’t worry. This isn’t a scary place. It’s a place to make you better.” The NHS provides a place of healing and is there to help people – that’s how I see it.’

Vicky works at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, treating young patients – from day-old babies right up to 18-year-olds – who arrive in A&E with injuries or illnesses. As a senior member of the nursing team, it’s her job to manage the staff as they undertake their 12-hour shifts.

‘When I’m on duty, I’m making sure that procedures are followed correctly and that patients are getting the right care,’ she says. ‘Paediatric nurses have to advocate for their patients a lot, because children don’t always have their own voice. We have to be their voice for them.’

Before Vicky gets into describing a typical day’s work, she tells me how she became a nurse in the first place. It wasn’t the path she expected to take in life.

‘As a child, the thought of being a nurse never occurred to me,’ she says. ‘I wanted to be an actress and singer. So, after completing my A-levels, I went to uni to do a music production degree. Once I’d graduated, I realised that I needed a proper job, so I ended up working in the appeals department of a parking management company for three years.

‘I remember sitting there, day after day, dealing with angry people who were complaining about their parking charges, and thinking to myself: “Why am I doing this? I don’t want to be this person. I want to be someone who makes life better, who helps people.” But I didn’t know what to do about it.’

Then, one day, completely out of the blue, something clicked.

‘I was in the toilets at work and the thought just popped into my head: “What if I went into healthcare?” It felt like God’s calling – because where else would that voice have come from? So I started looking into nursing, and then my older sister, who worked in the communications department at a children’s hospital, arranged for me to have a tour of some of the wards. When I saw all these poorly kids and such intense-looking medical equipment, I felt daunted. I didn’t have a clue if I’d make it as a nurse. But I knew that I had to go for it. So I did. And I’ve never looked back.’

In 2019, Vicky completed her training to become a qualified nurse and joined the friendly paediatric team based at Blackpool Victoria. Last year, she was thrilled to be promoted to paediatric sister. She outlines what constitutes a ‘good day’ at work.

‘There are lots of things. When you see a patient who is scared but you eventually get them smiling – that’s a good day. I remember a little boy came into A&E once, and he was crying and frightened because he’d cut his head. Gradually I managed to calm him down and win him over. Then, when I told him I needed to glue his head, he said “Yessss!” and did a little dance. He ended up going home happy. It’s moments like that which make the job great. And when you see that the parents are appreciative of what you are doing, that’s lovely too.’

But there are also stressful and sad days. A significant part of Vicky’s job is caring for seriously ill patients who, when they arrive on site, are fighting for their lives.

‘Quite a few times I’ve had to deal with cardiac arrests,’ she says. ‘So, in those cases, I might be injecting the patient with emergency fluids and drugs, getting medical equipment ready for the doctors and trying to support the family. I don’t know how I stay so calm – but the adrenaline kicks in and I put my feelings to one side. I just have to focus on the job.

‘If things don’t go how I want them to and, sadly, a patient dies, it can affect me in different ways. Sometimes I’ll talk through what happened with a colleague straightaway, let my emotions out, then go back to work and deal with my other patients. Other times, I’ll cry in my car on the way home.

‘The emotion comes to the surface for all sorts of reasons. You’re crying for the family who are grieving. You’re crying because of the shift you’ve just had. Sometimes you cry as a stress release.’

‘Although, on the whole, my faith sustains me, there are heartbreaking times at work which make me question God, asking him: “Why is this happening?” The conclusion I’ve come to is that God doesn’t make the bad things happen, but he cries with us as we go through them. He tries to hold us through it all.’

Whether she is supporting patients who need a little or a lot of care, Vicky’s ambition is to be a nurse who makes a difference. And she has even used her musical skills to do so. In 2020 – the year Covid hit the UK – she brought a smile to many people’s faces by posting social media videos of her singing. At the end of that year, as part of the NHS Voices of Care Choir, she sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ alongside Michael Ball at the Royal Variety Performance, a moment seen by millions when it was broadcast on ITV.

‘It was a fantastic experience,’ she says. ‘Michael sang first, then we all walked on stage to sing with him. He said he was in awe of us and the work we’d been doing through the pandemic. It had been an intense time for us all.

‘When I look back on the Covid outbreak, I can just remember how scared we all were. There were a lot of unknowns and no one knew what to expect. But, as nurses, we just got on with it.

‘Now, three years later, I can see how much I’ve changed. I’ve grown in confidence. I’m able to deal with difficult situations and talk with doctors and do things that I never thought I’d be able to do. But through it all, I’ve always felt that God is walking alongside me.’

Written by

A photo of Claire Brine

Claire Brine

Staff Writer, War Cry

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