Barbara Peel is an animal nurse at Goddard Veterinary Group's Collier Row practice in Romford. Her 35-year career began rather unexpectedly and was the result of a heavy fall of snow.
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How did you get to where you are today?
I walked into Goddard and Allen (as it was then called) in Collier Row, Romford, on a very snowy day in the winter of 1981, with my rough collie, who was sick. The vet was a locum and he knew nothing about the surgery. The nurse had not made it into work because of the weather, the phone was ringing and the situation seemed quite desperate. He asked me whether I would answer the phone. I said yes, and the rest is history.
I was soon working at the Plaistow, Goodmayes and Barkingside branches of Goddard Veterinary Group and, in 1984, joined the Collier Row branch permanently. Back in those days, I was trained ‘on the job’ by the other nurses. I was known as a practice nurse or assistant. I particularly enjoyed caring for animals as they recovered from operations.
How has the job changed since you started?
It is almost unrecognisable. I was trained in the days when the practice used old- fashioned sterilisers, the lids of which had to be screwed down. We scrubbed individual syringes clean too – and, boy, did we clean them! Our patients were housed in wooden cages and these also had to be scrubbed out each time they were used.
The drugs we used seem basic compared with what we use today and we only handled routine operations in-house – dog and cat castrations and spays and stitch-ups following minor accidents. All other procedures were handled at the hospital in Wanstead, in marked contrast to today where the practice team carries out a great many advanced procedures in-house.
Things have changed on the administrative side too. When I joined, patient notes were written in notebooks and on cards and filed in cabinets. We didn't have a till – just a money box and key – and had no appointment system – it was first come, first served.
What does your job involve?
While I've nursed animals throughout my time at Goddards, these days I work part-time and mainly on reception, although I still assist the vets from time to time and I really enjoy that. I love my job even though I am 70 years old. It keeps me feeling young and I enjoy meeting clients. Many of them were around when I first started working and it is great to catch up with them and talk about their animals past and present. The skill of the vets never ceases to amaze me.
Is there anything you don't you like?
Only the computers – the rest I love!
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
The best piece of advice given to me was by the founder of the practice, Arthur Goddard. He told me always to talk to the animals quietly and positively about anything – but to talk to cats about carrots. I never asked him why, but I still do it to this day and it has never failed me – much to the amusement of the vets.
What was your proudest moment?
Collecting my long service certificate in June 2012 from Philip Goddard, who now runs the group. It was during a party on a boat on the River Thames to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the practice and it brought it home to me just how long I had worked for Goddards and how much I had enjoyed my career.
... and your most embarrassing?
There have been many over the years, but one of the most memorable was when I ripped the bottom out of my trousers while bending over to pick up a boxer in front of the vet and the dog's owner. Luckily, we all ended up laughing and, thank goodness, I had a decent pair of knickers on!