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  • Kate Haskell

A life time of care

Photo: Matt Austin

What makes someone inspirational? More importantly for this series what makes a woman inspirational? Without banging the feminist drum too much, women have had to fight their way to the front in life, from getting the right to vote to being in charge in the boardroom; I’m not even going to start on equal pay!

But forgetting all that for a moment, and allowing ourselves to be inspired just by the way someone lives their life or their outlook, you can find yourself feeling truly uplifted and that is how I felt after interviewing my first Inspirational Woman for Devon Life.

Monica Bulman is 83 years old. I know you should never reveal a lady’s age but I checked and she is happy I share it with you because you really wouldn’t believe it when meeting her. Not only does she look a good 20 years younger, she has the attitude of someone about half her age. As we chat I discover that, not only has she just come back from a whirlwind tour of Italy with a group of girlfriends where they barely stopped to draw breath, after our interview she will be heading off to a spinning class that evening. Yes, you read that right, a spinning class where a group of fitness fanatics clamber on to static bikes and pedal away to music instructed by some lycra-clad, fit nut instructor!

I have tried a class once and couldn’t keep up so my eyes are well and truly wide with amazement when Monica tells she is a regular. Not only that but she will be out for a skittles night later in the week along with other various clubs and commitments. There is certainly no sitting by the fire with a bag of knitting involved in Monica’s life; there simply isn’t the time.

Monica trained as a nurse at St John’s Hospital in London before moving to Devon with her husband and two sons in 1968: “We had friends in Torquay” she tells me “and it seemed such a nice place to live and we never looked back.” Working at Paignton Hospital after that for most of her career Monica reached what was then “retirement age” in 1998 and enjoyed a great farewell party on the Friday but was promptly back at work on the Monday, helping out on a short-staffed Torbay Hospital ward. She hasn’t stopped since and is one of the oldest nurses still working in the NHS but it’s clear to see it is her life and she wouldn’t have it any other way: “I was always going to be a nurse for as long as I can remember.”

The death of Monica’s husband a year ago obviously hit her hard but it was work that kept her going: “I couldn’t have been without my colleagues and friends at that time; they were wonderful and I could not have been without my job. I just love it and work has been my lifeline.

“My husband and I were married for 55 years; he was so fit, hiking over the moors, cycling long distances for charity and all of a sudden he wasn’t here anymore. If I hadn’t had my job I might have stayed at home weeping but no, I wanted to carry on.”

It is clear that both colleagues and patients alike adore and respect Monica for not only her dedication but her joy in what can be a stressful job: “Obviously there are sad times but only this morning a patient gave me a hug as they were being discharged to say thank you; I do get a bit emotional at that. There have certainly been plenty of changes over the years as well that I have had to adapt to; we didn’t have mobile phones for a start.”

Just how does Monica cope with the constant updating, I wonder, but she takes it all in her stride and adds: “I will know when I can’t do this anymore and I will go before they have to ask. If I felt I couldn’t keep up or was getting a bit slapdash I would stop.”

As I say goodbye to Monica I feel admiration but also a sense of guilt that I ever grumble or moan about work or anything else for that matter. Life is for living and there is no doubt that Monica is doing that to the full.

Who inspires Monica?

“My mum died just short of her 100th birthday and she was an amazing woman, very fit and vital. Whenever we had a family get-together we would always try to go for a swim and whilst my sister and I were puffing and panting away she was off swimming happily and we were always very envious of her.”

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