Personal Column: Second Careers

In middle age, Harold Wilson's son Giles has achieved his childhood ambition of becoming a train driver. John Holliday , 51, is finally living his dream, too...
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I'd been in sales with different companies for 25 years. By the end of it I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. Six years ago I was given a mix of antibiotics and they damaged my liver and I was taken into hospital. I was quite ill. I sat in bed wondering what to do with the rest of my life. I earned quite a lot, I had a big car - a top of the range Rover - and travelled the world. It was a nice lifestyle. But I wasn't happy.

When I was young, before I had a family, I wanted to be a nurse. My father was a mental health nurse for 35 years and was very happy. I left school without any qualifications, was married at 19 and had my first child at 20. By the time I was 25 I was a father of three. We had a mortgage and it was a matter of survival like it is for most people. It was the norm to have three jobs at the same time, which I did at one stage. I couldn't have gone off to university for three years to train to be a nurse. Eventually I got to the stage where I was living comfortably and I didn't want to give that up.

When I was ill I thought that if I didn't do nursing now I never would. I discussed it with my second wife, Stephanie. She said she thought I'd make a great nurse and that I should do it. She said that she would help support me - she is head of department at a college. I looked into it and did a year's Open University foundation course in health and social care to get me starting on academic work. Two years later I jumped ship completely and started a three-year diploma in general nursing at Wolverhampton University.

My friends and family were delighted. I was absolutely petrified, but excited at the same time. I was scared of the unknown. Being in a predominantly female profession was quite daunting.

Our income came down drastically. I had been on almost £40,000 and now I was receiving a monthly bursary of about £600. We still had a mortgage and I couldn't have done it without my wife's support.

I've never looked back. I enjoyed every minute of the course, though it was frightening having to do all the assignments and working on the wards. Of about 80 people on the course there were six or seven men, including a bank manager and an engineer.

When I finished the course I worked for a short time at a hospital, but then heard there was a vacancy at Mary Stevens Hospice in Stourbridge, where we live. I jumped at it thinking, "That's what I want to do for the rest of my days in nursing."

I've been here for almost a year now. It's been absolutely unbelievable. Fantastic. I just love the work. It's the type of nursing that I always wanted to do, which is caring for people. Unfortunately, sometimes in general nursing you get wound up with the medical and paperwork side and don't actually get to do that much caring.

With this job you're able to make a difference at what is a special time in people's lives. People enjoy bringing people into the world and if I can make people's ending as good and as peaceful as possible I can go home thinking I've made a little bit of difference today.

When I was sales manager I didn't want to get out of bed. Now I want to get there and when I finish I sometimes don't want to leave the place and want to do more. It is upsetting when patients die and it does affect you, but if you crack up you're no good for anybody.

You have to learn to accept that death is what happens in life. As long as I can give someone a quality of life while they're here then I've done my job. You miss them when they go.

Eight weeks ago I started doing a degree in palliative care at Wolverhampton University on day release. My brother Graham, who's four years older than me and worked in computers, also decided to go into nursing a few years ago and has just finished his training.

I now earn almost £19,000, which isn't a bad income. Money isn't everything. If you enjoy what you do it becomes a labour of love. My plan is to work the rest of my time in this area, hopefully for the same hospice. My wife keeps telling me she's very proud of me. Not many people can actually say they love their work. I'm very lucky. I can't believe it.