I jumped into my car at seven in the evening, setting out on my very last journey to work. It was early April 2020 and the sun was going down in more ways than one. I had never driven there at this time before; as a nine-to-five worker I would instead be arriving home about now. I drove the route I had taken many times before, in all types of weather, being frustrated by traffic jams, delayed by accidents, wound up by idiot drivers jumping the red lights. This time I noticed very few road users and enjoyed the open view across the fields as the sun set on the final day of my nursing career. There would be no more shifts to fulfil, for my last working day had passed unknowingly and without recognition. My only mission now was to clear my desk and return all items that belonged to the hospital trust, which I hoped to achieve as quickly as possible and with little display of emotion.
When I entered the unusually silent office I thought of the times when the phone had never stopped ringing, the noisy printer clattering annoyingly; the laughter at ‘in jokes’ could still be heard, but it was only in my head. I tackled the stash of outdated papers that had accumulated, long overdue for disposal in the confidential waste bag. I particularly wanted to retrieve my text books on Microbiology and Infection Control, expensively purchased some five years ago in preparation for becoming an Infection Prevention Specialist Nurse. Still informative and current enough to be useful, I placed them carefully in my bag along with other items to take home. I zipped my now redundant fob-watch with pointers still moving into my hand bag. The paper pile vanished and my in-tray was terminally emptied. I sent some goodbye emails to colleagues who I would not be able to see in person, then applied my final ‘out of office’ message. I left the keys, my staff identification badge and my formal letter of resignation in a sealed envelope for my line manager to open the next morning.
That is how my career ended, but I did not mention that the Covid-19 pandemic was the catalyst, or that I had been asked to return to frontline duties after a decade away, or that my Manager and I shed tears at my hastened decision to retire. Having previously worked in Intensive Care for 21 years, it was apparent that the plan for me was redeployment with immediate effect. My skills were needed to help cope with the anticipated influx of patients stricken with this frightening new virus. Staff such as myself were required to join the existing team of nurses preparing to do battle on the frontline against this terrible threat to humanity. It was not a challenge I wished to rise to in the eventide of my 35-year-long career, so with a heavy heart and a sense of guilt, I declined and resigned. No one saw me leave. It certainly did not happen in the way I had anticipated, though I can happily say I have never looked back, and retirement really is the sweetest thing I could ever imagine. I am free, no longer shackled to the NHS and it feels amazing.
© Angela Craddock 2021-07-23