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In conversation with Karen, physio nurse, animal lover and body pump instructor

Here the next installment of our In conversation with.. series, introducing Karen Hampson, a care pathway facilitator who loves animals and teaches body pump in her spare time.

Age: 47

Lives: Wickford

Personal life: Lives with her menagerie of animals; two rabbits and two dogs (read more about them below!)

What’s your role at our Trust and how long have you been with us?

I’m a care pathway facilitator for NELFT, based on the community rehab wards at King George Hospital.

I’ve worked in the NHS for over 30 years and joined our Trust in 1998, at Oldchurch Hospital as an oncology nurse, soon after I qualified.

What does your role involve?

Patients are referred from our wards and I assess them for what rehab they need, so we can give them as smooth a transition as possible from hospital to home. I work really closely with medical staff across the hospital.

We’re all working together to get the patients home, so my job could be helping them to improve their strength so they can wash and dress themselves, basically to do all the tasks they’d need to do at home.

My patients are predominantly elderly, my oldest was 106. When I commented on her age she just said: ‘Good, innit?!’

Did you always want to be a nurse?

I’m from Manchester and I started out as an auxiliary nurse. I did that because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. It was very different then. I did the basics of care, washing the patients, speaking to them, and I’d always have a joke with them.

When I first moved to London in 1993 I spent a year working in the House of Commons as a research assistant, rubbing shoulders with all the MPs. I was still auxiliary nursing and studying at the time and I was interested in getting into politics for health. In the end I wanted to do more in health and I realised that I could make a difference and change lives in a hospital. So I applied for nursing training.

You’ve spent a few decades at our Trust, have you done lots of different roles during that time?

After starting in oncology, I moved to A&E. That stood me in really good stead for working in rehab as I learned so much. I’ve also worked in paediatrics and respiratory care. I’ve done so many jobs over the years.

I’ve always found my job really interesting and I learn something new every day. I’m still learning now.

And you have your own disabilities which help you empathise with your patients?

I have dystonia, a movement disorder, so I have regular botox injections into my muscles to help with the pain. I also have Osteoarthritis, a visual impairment, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which affects my heart rate. I have fibromyalgia which can also cause pain and fatigue and I’ve had mild cerebral palsy from birth.

Despite all this, I’ve always grafted, which is why I’m proud of my achievements. I think I’ve achieved more because of my disability – a doctor once told me I could never go into nursing if I had dystonia, it made me even more determined.

And it absolutely does help me to empathise with my patients. When they say they can’t do something, I tell them about my disability, and encourage them to do it with me.

And you’re a body pump instructor by night…?

I am a qualified body pump instructor and I cover classes at gyms in Romford and Wickford.

I started to exercise about 17 years ago as doctors said it would help with my dystonia, and at over 20 stone and a size 26 I needed to lose some weight.

I lost seven stone and it has made a big difference. I also found I loved the gym as I was just like everyone else in there, despite my disability, I felt normal. It helped me a lot when my mum was sick with cancer for seven years. She died last year and the last thing I told her was that I was going to qualify as an instructor. She was proud of that.

I’m a mad old thing so I try and make it jolly and give it 110 per cent. I want to qualify to teach body combat next – then I’ll be a real ninja nurse!

What do you like most about your job?

I joined the NHS to help change people’s lives. I try to make things less frightening for my patients. I also like that what I’ve learned can also help people outside work.

In the past I’ve helped people in accidents or when they’ve collapsed. That makes me really proud.

I’d rather have my job than do something else even if I was earning £100,000!

Tell us about your involvement in the 2012 Paralympics

I danced in the opening ceremony. They’d asked for volunteers and then I had to audition. It was fabulous and inspiring to see so many people with different conditions doing it.

Lastly, we’d love to know more about your menagerie of animals!

I’ve got two rabbits and two dogs. The rabbits are Terry (Big Tel) and Pixie, and the dogs are Ross and Benjy. Big Tel is blind and Ross is deaf.

I’m an absolute animal lover and they really help me. The dogs tell me if someone is at the door and even remind me if I’ve left the cooker on. And they make me laugh. Big Tel is blind but he gets around fine, usually lobbing stuff out of the way with his mouth, but as he is blind, he often lobs things right in the dogs’ direction!

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