Sarah – My First Experience of Death

Having never worked within the healthcare sector before certainly was an eye opener, the pace that everyone worked at, the different services that the Surgery offered and the sheer volume of people through the doors and the phones that never stopped ringing.

But I love it. Every day brought something new – I was constantly learning new skills together with getting to know the staff and the patients. For once I enjoyed going into work every day.

Don’t get me wrong there were ups and downs – Doctors getting grumpy with the Receptionists because they put extra’s into their clinics, Patients getting grumpy because they couldn’t get their way – and other receptionists getting grumpy because everyone else was grumpy with them.  But you got through those days and came out of them to face a similar one the next day.

One of my very first patient memory was a mum called Sarah. I had spoken to her several times on the phone and she always seemed to be very anxious. She always asked for an appointment. On speaking to other receptionists it soon became clear that she was a “regular” to the surgery.

Over the years working in Reception I got to know our “regulars” very well. Now regulars can again come in all shapes and sizes. We have the regulars that need to be seen by the doctors for one reason or another, and are pretty poorly and we have the regulars that perhaps don’t need to be seen quite so often. These patients do take up a lot of time and money from the NHS. They take up Doctors appointments; they request tests that require nurses, or hospital appointments. More often than not their tests all come back clear. But as a Receptionist it was not my place to judge – if a patient asked for an appointment they would get one. But you can’t help getting a bit frustrated by a patient demanding to see a Doctor in an emergency slot for a runny nose that they have just developed that day – and usually the regulars know the system and know that if they insist on being seen that day they we have to offer an appointment.

We used to get a lot of anxious mums – again we would never refuse for a baby or child to be seen. But a lot of times the child might just have a cold or teething. It did occur to me that a lot of these young mums did not have the support from older experienced family members – they were often single mums or a first time mum with no guidance from a mum or gran. Sad really as all they needed was reassurance from someone – so often they had no one else to turn to other than their Doctor.

I remember one of the Doctors saying once that he felt more like a social worker than a Doctor.

So, back to Sarah – she would phone on a regular basis – and it was always for the same thing – her back. She would come into see the doctors – they ordered tests on her back and blood tests and all came back clear. After a while the doctors and the reception staff began to wonder if there was actually anything wrong with her at all. But she insisted that her back was bad.

I liked Sarah – she wasn’t like one of the “regulars” that didn’t have anything wrong. She never caused a fuss she just wanted an appointment.

She also had 3 beautiful daughters – age 8, 5 and 3. They were always dressed beautifully and always very well-behaved when they came into the surgery. We rarely seen her husband but all in all a lovely family unit.

Then Sarah became ill. She was admitted into hospital. She had cancer in her back. The surgery was in shock – and more so the doctors as nothing had shown up in any tests.

Sarah sadly died some weeks later. I was completely devastated by this – it was the first patient that I had known died at the surgery. All I could think about was she was right – she knew that there was something wrong.

I couldn’t sleep at night for thinking about those 3 little girls – their mummy now gone.

But if I wanted to carry on working in the Surgery I knew that we would lose patients again and again. But what I never have ever forgotten from that day to this is NEVER judge and think someone is “putting on an act” I have no right to judge – and from that day to this if someone requested appointments time and time again they were treated with respect and given the appointment.

Sarah’s husband gave up work to look after the girls – he would come in from time to time with one of the girls. He seemed to be doing a great job of looking after them – he still kept them immaculate – they were a credit to him. Sarah would have been so proud of them all.

I used to chat to him when he came in – I asked how the girls were coping and how he was coping. He always seemed to enjoy our chats. He told me that he was getting on very well – he still missed Sarah but the girls were keeping him going, but one thing he did have problems with was their hair – every one of them had the most beautiful long hair – but he just couldn’t “do” long hair. The girls had to wear their hair back or up for school. Often, They often wanted it platted or put into pigtails – he tried and tried but just couldn’t do it. He said there had been more tears over hair in the house than anything else.

He said that it would be so much easier if they all had short hair –  but their long hair had always been Sarah’s pride and joy and for that reason he would battle on and try his very best to do that pigtails.

I cried that afternoon when I thought of that poor man – coping with the loss of his wife, being a dad and a mum to the girls and trying very hard to create that perfect hair style.

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