It was a normal Wednesday morning and it was getting towards lunchtime. There was a Health Visitors Clinic going on at the time and there were mums and dads in the waiting room with their little ones waiting to be seen. Often this clinic overrun and we would have to close for lunch leaving the Health Visitor to let the patients out of the building.
Most of the doctors had gone out on their visits – there was one just finishing off his paperwork at the back of reception. Some of the receptionists had taken an early lunch, so it was me another receptionist and the Practice Manager who was in her office.
Five minutes before we were due to close the Surgery for lunch a young lad about 23 years of age came up to the reception desk. I could tell that he was very agitated – he asked to see a Doctor.
I knew that the doctor doing his paperwork had visits to do and a full surgery to come back to that afternoon and would not appreciate being asked to see this patient at this point – I felt sure it was not urgent. The Doctor was in the background and could hear the conversation and did not intervene so I felt right in explaining to the young man that there were not doctors available at that time as they were all out on their visits.
I checked on the computer and saw we had a cancellation later on that afternoon for 4.30. I asked the young man if he would like that appointment. He started pacing the reception area cursing and swearing.
He then started to shout and throw his arms around – I could see the patients in the waiting room ushering their little ones towards them. They started looking worried. It was obvious that this patient was getting very aggressive and giving some cause for concern.
At the point the Doctor doing is paperwork picked up his visit sheet and left the building! The other receptionist went to the back of the reception area and telephoned the Health Visitor who came and took the patients in the waiting room into her office.
All of a sudden was alone in the reception area with this young man – who was now getting more angry and aggressive. He was shouting that he needed to see a Doctor and NOW! He then went to rip the telephone off the wall shouting if he didn’t see a Doctor immediately he would go outside and throw himself in front of a car.
He started shouting that he needed to call his girlfriend but did not have any money. He then slammed into the telephone on the wall again.
At this point I had to do something – I was hoping that the other receptionist had gone to the Practice Managers office and they were phoning the police and the duty doctor on call that day. I hoped that no one else would come into the Surgery at that point.
But at this moment in time it was me and him, and I had to avoid any more damage or worse.
The only thing I felt I could do was talk to the young man.
In a firm but soft voice I asked him to come and talk to me – I was thankful for the high reception desk that was between the two of us. I also stood back so he could not grab me over the desk.
I told him if he stopped I would let him use the reception telephone. He stopped and asked if I would let him use the phone. I passed the phone over to him and he dialled his girlfriend.
He spoke to her and she obviously calmed him down. The call finished and he handed me back the telephone and said thank you! He was starting to calm down.
I asked him if he was ok. He started crying. He then poured out his troubles – he had been taking drugs and had been trying to come off them and was finding it very difficult. He had a young daughter who he was not allowed to see because of his drug habit and because of her he was trying to be drug free. He had a row with his girlfriend that same morning and she had told him that it was over between them. He had just come to the end of his tether.
He said that he had spoken to his social worker that morning and she was not of much help (I did not go into details) and he felt that everyone was against him, and he needed help. But no one was helping. He felt that he needed drugs to get him thorough this, but he was fighting against it – but said he didn’t know how much longer he could do so he said he was really struggling. He felt by threatening to throw himself under a car that someone might do something to help him. He said that he would do it if it would get him the help he needed.
I actually started feeling sorry for this young man – he was screaming out for help – I admit not going the right way about it – but it was obvious that he was frightened and very confused at this point.
I started chatting to him (I cannot even remember what the conversation was now) but he seemed to calm right down. I stood there with him until the duty doctor came back and took him into his room.
The police arrived shortly afterwards and after speaking to the duty doctor decided they were not going to arrest the young man.
The doctor admitted the patient into the local drug rehab centre for 2 weeks – the doctor said that the young man was almost at breaking point.
After lunch all was calm and everything back to normal.
Then three weeks later I was out the back doing some admin work when one of my colleagues called me and said that there was a patient at the desk asking for me. I went up to the desk and there was the young man. He said that he wanted to thank me for all my help when he was in last. He said that all he wanted was someone to listen to him and that I had been the first person to have done that. He apologised for the upset that he might have caused and promised that it would never happen again.
He went on to say that he had got fantastic help and support in the drug rehab centre and the doctor here in the Practice and for that he and his girlfriend were on great terms and he was in the process of agreeing access to seeing his daughter. He was one very happy man.
He then presented me with a box of chocolates.
Whenever that young man came into the surgery from that day on he was always pleasant, friendly and very polite.
Sometimes people just want to be listened to and not judged.
Of course it could have turned out a lot worse. Does your Practice have a protocol on dealing with such an incident? Have your Receptionist had training on dealing difficult situations?
Does your Reception desk have a panic button?