The bright lights of London beckoned for Alison Caple who arrived in the capital with aspirations to follow a family friend into district nursing.
Her destination was the less-than-glamorous suburb of Eastcote but it did little to dampen the Welsh teenager’s spirits.
“My mam saw me off at Llanelli station. I’d never been to London before so it was a real adventure. I remember being so excited on the trip up here in 1978.”
Alison did a pre-nursing course at St Vincent’s Orthopaedic Hospital, Eastcote, and started general nurse training at Ealing Hospital in two years later.
She went on to work as a district nurse for 18 years. Her duties in the early days often included having to make breakfast for patients she saw at the weekend … and they weren’t always grateful.
Alison said: “One elderly lady used to call me ‘four eyes’ and would constantly complain about everything. I remember arriving one day to find her in tears crying that someone called Peter had died in the flat.
“I quickly asked where he was only to find her pet budgerigar had expired. I had to bury him in the garden and then go out and buy a new bird. You had to be a jack-of-all-trades in those days.”
Alison liked the autonomy of being a district nurse and the relationships she built with patients over many years.
“One of my mentors advised me to treat patients as family and remember it was a privilege to be a nurse and be invited into people’s homes. It was a good advice and I’ve always tried to live up to that.
It was while working in the predominantly Asian community of Southall that she began to develop at interest in diabetes as she noticed how many people lived with the condition.
The area was previously part of a landmark study on diabetes which involved knocking on every household in the neighbourhood to gauge just how many people were affected by the condition.
Alison eventually returned to Ealing Hospital as a diabetes nurse specialist in 2003.
The service has come a long way in the past four decades from the ‘miniature chemistry sets’ used to check sugar levels in urine samples to modern day glucose test strips, sensor technology and insulin pumps.
Her duties keep her in the hospital nowadays where she focuses on more complex cases although her favourite group of patients to work with are young adults.
Alison added: “It’s tough to live with the condition at that age, especially Type1 diabetes which is life-long and requires self-administered injections of insulin.
“We’ve got a great team who work with them including a psychologist and it’s rewarding to see young people come to terms with it and not let diabetes get in the way of their lives.”
Alison says she is still surprised that it’s time to retire next month but has bought a camper van with her husband and intends to explore the UK.
“We’re really looking forward to going on the road although I still live in Eastcote after all these years!”