It’s 7am and Louise Farrow, one of the 14,500 staff working in the Cardiff Vale University Health Board is about to start her 12-hour shift.
She is the Deputy Sister in the emergency department of Wales’ busiest hospital the University Hospital of Wales, known as the Heath, and launches into her shift admitting she has no idea what the next few hours will bring.
Helping to head up the resuscitation department, her job is to put patients at ease, often when they are sick, frightened, in pain and all alone.
It’s not long before her first phone-call comes, announcing the imminent arrival of a patient who needs to be seen immediately.
Jake, 18, has been involved in a collision with a car while driving his motorbike and needs an urgent X-ray to check he hasn’t broken his back and just moments later, Fred, 81, is rushed in with a possible heart attack, so it’s all go from the off.
But Louise has learned this is the nature of the ED and her calming chat helps to put both patients at ease.
She says: “It’s one extreme to another down in resus. You can be so calm you get on with chores, making sure the area’s clean and prepared for the next patient and at other times it is manic.”
It’s four hours before she gets her first break – a quick 20-minute stop to eat cold baked beans, so they can be abandoned at any time in an emergency.
“I like cold baked beans because it gives me more time to drink my cup of coffee.”
Three floors up from the ED is the cardiac department where Maggie Hill has been working for more than 25 years, and is in charge of three catheter cardiac theatres.
She knew from the moment she started her nurse training that she wanted to work in the cardiac ward and finds the crucial procedures that save patients every day completely rewarding.
Her section is one of the busiest in the UK, treating a population with one of the highest rates of heart disease in the country, so she’s extremely busy at all times and always has to be prepared for all events.
She could be helping to deal with a patient through a procedure and then be interrupted by an emergency that has to be dealt with as soon as possible.
But these challenges make the job even more rewarding for Maggie and finding beds for critically ill patients who need keyhole heart surgery is a huge part of her job.
She deals with patients who have blocked blood vessels and diseases of the heart, conditions that affect one in three deaths in the UK every year. It’s basically like plumbing on people and creates a hugely busy work schedule for the nurse.
But the last thing she’s doing is complaining, saying: “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I went into the cardiac theatres as a student nurse in Bristol and seeing up on the screen the heartbeat for the first time and I thought it was absolutely amazing.”
Fortunately the patient, 90-year-old Reverend Harvey, recovers well from the procedure, and Maggie moves onto 79-year-old Glenys, who comes in with a suspected heart attack.
“Patients can have heart attacks at any time of the day and there’s got to be a team available to look after them. You don’t know if they are going to be sat up talking to you when you come in or if they are going to be in shock and very acutely in pain or on their own.
“She (Glenys) was at home this morning and had chest pain so she called for help which was the right thing to do and the ambulance came pretty quick down to us. What we’re going to do now is take pictures of her coronary arteries as we believe one is blocked and we’re going to see if we can open it up and get a blood supply up the vessels.
“If the husband hadn’t called the ambulance the outcome could have been a lot worse. You do see instant results with the procedures we do, especially on heart attack patients. We instantly stop the pain and that’s very rewarding.
“Every day is different. You are never going to be able to predict what’s going to happen. You’ve got routine work and then you’ve got the crash and emergency coming in. It’s exciting, it’s rewarding. And you don’t get that in many jobs, do you?”
The cameras also follow Anwen Evans, self-confessed “legend” who has been working in the Spinal Trauma and Surgery unit for 42 years.
It’s no surprise that she came into nursing as a vocation and she’s still caring for patients after all these years.
Viewers will see how she copes when 31-year-old Chay comes in with a broken back, after falling off a wall and landing on concrete.
He is in a huge amount of pain and she can be seen gently calming him down, showing off those crucial skills that are required in such a department.
“Nursing is definitely a vocation for me. Definitely. When I went into it, it was a vocation and it still is now. I really want to care.”
While most nurses on wards have to deal with about nine patients at one time, in the intensive care department at University Hospital Llandough, it’s one-to-one patient care and staff nurse Carla Ainscough is dealing with a lady called Kathleen, who has been admitted after falling unconscious two days after having a hip operation.
It’s got the highest nurse-to-patient ratio and more than 190 nurses provide care 24 hours a day.
Carla says: “When I was a student on my first placement, I walked into intensive care and I thought, ‘Uh-ho, I’ve bitten off a little more than I can chew here’ but then by the end of the first week it felt right. I clicked with it and knew that’s where I wanted to work.”
Kathleen is unconscious on a ventilator and Carla has to get her moved and scanned, a delicate process when she is on life-support.
“Part of the job is like being a technician. It’s incorporated into their personal care. We are dealing with somebody who is sick, life-threateningly sick, and so you’re out of your comfort zone and you have to be aware and understand that something could go wrong at any point and prepare for it.
“You can be with patients sometimes for one day, sometimes for five years, depending on how long they are in here and I think every patients leaves their mark. We cannot save everyone although we try so death can an every day normality but it never feels normal if that makes sense. It’s never easy.”
Nurses is on Five on Wednesday night at 8pm