People often do not realise, or forget that Receptionists working in GP Surgeries and Hospitals are faced difficult situations each and ever day. Certain events will leave imprints on our hearts,
It it their compassion and dedication to their job that will take them that extra mile to ensure that their patients receive the best possible care and much more. Their dedication often goes unseen by the general public, the Practice Manager and even the GP’s. They simply just get on and do the very best they can and ask for little recognition in return.
Receptionists are on the front line, often faced with situations that need to be dealt and often outside their job description, but they get on and do the job, because they care.
I would like to thank a Receptionists who kindly shared this story, an insight to her feelings, and how important this patient was to her.
Well done, and a big thank you to the many Receptionists that go “that extra mile” to ensure that all our needs are met.
When he rung that lunch time I recognised the name at once. I had taken a fax off the machine a month or so ago and speed-read the story before handing it on to the GP. A health professional had been contacted by the patient’s bank manager who was concerned by his erratic behaviour, and felt he needed to let someone know. (Credit to that bank manager!)
Details of that fax flooded back in fragments as he told me he wanted to see a doctor – he had been unable to keep any food down for some time, and now he could not swallow his cup of tea. It was the Monday before Christmas – we were heaving with patients and our appointments were long gone.
You know that instinct that floods you at times like this? I sensed if I hesitated at all he would simply vanish – put down the phone – give up at once. Everything inside me shouted that he NEEDED TO SEE A DOCTOR! Ask him to call back at 8.30am in the morning? Don’t be daft – he won’t. Secure something for him NOW!
At my practice the Duty Doctor has slots for ‘anyone who feels they must see a GP today.’ I booked him in. I prayed that he would show up. I watched from the desk as the time drew near – it was a bit like wondering whether you would catch a glimpse of some frightened wild thing in the bushes!
He came. Gaunt, pale, skin stretched over his face like parchment. An odd, nervy little old man, tiny in his winter clothes. He saw the GP. She messaged Reception to catch a nurse to test his blood urgently. He had his blood test. We booked him a return appointment (at the Duty Doctor’s bidding) the next day. He went home.
When he returned in the morning he was in a smart suit, which once must have fitted him and now simply drowned him. He went in for his appointment. More instructions to Reception – “An ambulance is coming for Mr Small. Print off an Encounter Report for the Ambulance Crew and come and collect the letter I am writing for them.”
Mr Small sat and waited. And waited. There was a quieter moment and I went across to him. I reassured – “The Ambulance WILL be here – it always takes a while.”
He looked at me hesitantly. “Left me dog at home. Be back soon though won’t I?”
“Your dog? Oh! Is – is there anyone with a key who can go in and look after her?”
“No. Don’t know me neighbours. She’ll be OK. Be back tonight wont’ I?”
I thought of the dog. I thought of the few lines of the letter I had just clipped together with the Encounter Report. This scrawny, sad little man wasn’t going anywhere for quite a while. The GP had found ‘A mass’ in his abdomen. His bloods were nightmarish. He was going in for major surgery I imagined.
He was talking once more. “On me way to me sister’s for Christmas. Will I still be able to go?”
What was I to say? I was ‘only the receptionist.’ I said I wasn’t sure – all would become clear once he got to hospital and the doctors sorted things out. That sort of safe, general waffle. (You know!) Then I went back to the office and wrote an extra note which I stapled on to his wodge of papers: “MR SMALL HAS LEFT HIS DOG AT HOME. PLEASE BEAR THIS IN MIND – HE WILL BE VERY ANXIOUS ABOUT HIS DOG IF HE HAS TO LEAVE IT FOR MORE THAN A FEW HOURS.”
Someone suggested ringing Social Services about the dog. I cannot now remember all I did – I remember making quite a few calls one way or the other but not achieving ‘closure.’ Before going home I handed it all on to another colleague in Reception – telephone numbers – people I had talked to – people who might (just might!) ring back to offer help – etc etc. I asked the colleague to ‘let me know’ what happened.
My laid-back colleague didn’t. Things got busy, and she was very distracted. We all know how easily that can happen. It was just a dog after all. I went to bed that night and my dreams were crowded with sad, hollow eyed old men, and whimpering, abandoned dogs starving in tiny locked kitchens. I went to work the next day with my heart in my mouth and my brain frayed.
It had been sorted. Social Services had arranged for the dog to be collected and taken to a kennels. Mr Small was still in hospital. As I knew he would be. Christmas, for him, had been abruptly cancelled.
My lovely family Christmas came and went. We staggered into January with all the winter ills which seem to blow in with the cold winter winds, and all the challenges of a new computer system to grapple with. And in the midst of this someone said – “Oh – that old man with the dog has died.”
Do we ever get used to this sort of thing? I remembered his haunted face – the far too large suit – the wasted eyes. His anxiety for his only real friend – his little dog.
The end of the story was that the sister with whom he never spent Christmas took the dog in. I hope she cherished her and loved her. At least she didn’t stay in the kennels, though she must have wondered, as dogs do, why she never saw her beloved master again.
As Receptionists we should never underestimate the breadth or the strangeness of our role at times. We have to react to so many different scenarios. We are expected to turn on a sixpence – shrug and move on to the next thing – not get involved – blah blah blah.
One man and his dog. Both went to my heart. And if ever the day comes when that doesn’t happen, I will look for another job. It costs to care – but I believe it is what our job is all about.