Salisbury District Hospital A&E nurse Dan Avery tells Giverny Masso about using his acting skills to raise money for the hospital and why the Novichok incident prepared him for the coronavirus pandemic…
How did you get into nursing?
Actors go through many jobs – I’ve been a butcher, fishmonger, waiter, barman and an arts specialist in Paperchase. My mum was a nurse and she said: “Have you thought about joining the bank at the hospital?” You can pick your own shifts and I enjoyed the job and learned new skills. I did an extra diploma to become more senior, then I got a permanent job in A&E. I’m now an apprentice, so I do everything a nurse can, apart from give drugs. I’ve been doing that for 10 years.
Tell me about your experiences...
In my first few weeks in A&E I found myself with my hands inside a man’s groin because his leg had been ripped off from a motorbike and I had to stem his artery. I had to stay there for about 40 minutes – and I couldn’t move while the team were working around him. That was a baptism of fire. I work at the same hospital that dealt with the Novichok [poisoning] incident two years ago. At that time I was rehearsing for Hamlet, and I was going to be in rehearsals for Jane Eyre with the same company before lockdown.
What has been your best acting experience so far?
My highlight was playing Hamlet at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, which gave me an honorary best performance award for the season. I was really chuffed. My Minack experiences have been phenomenal, I would say to any actor if they get the opportunity to play the Minack – do, it’s one of the best stages in the world.
How has nursing impacted your acting?
It’s opened my eyes to the world. I auditioned for Hamlet in my 20s and I didn’t get the role. I don’t think I could have played him as well as I can now, because of all the experiences I’ve had and some of the stuff I’ve seen and been involved with [and thinking about] the philosophy of life and death. That hits you. Also, there are so many different characters coming into the hospital, from the drunk teenagers to the old ladies that fall over – that helps with character study.
Have you used your acting skills in nursing?
When Salisbury Hospital was raising money for a breast cancer unit, I put on a week’s performance of Tissue by Louise Page to raise money. It was rehearsed in London with professional actors and performed in Salisbury. I adapted the script, directed and produced with local backing. We raised £2,500.
What is it like working during the Covid-19 pandemic?
This has been a massive, dramatic change for us, because we had to separate the emergency department into two parts: the isolation zone and the normal area. It was similar to what happened with Novichok, but this is a different ball game. And we’re putting ourselves at risk [of catching Covid-19] as well, that’s the anxiety everyone’s feeling.
Training: BTEC in performing arts at Salisbury College (1999-2001) and a BA (hons) degree in theatre and media drama at the University of Glamorgan (2001-04)
First professional role: Theatre in education tour of Buzz with Fast Forward Theatre (2004)