I’m back at work this week, even though I’m still really unwell with “covid symptoms”. I tested myself, came up negative…so back to work for me.
Working on telecommunications is hectic and every day I feel sooo tired from it, but usually it’s not too bad a job. There are hundreds of callers that just want to speak to their loved ones. Most callers are distressed so I try to speak gently and have extra patience with them.
We have a strict rule on our calls that the patient’s privacy comes first. Every patient is given an opportunity to list people who are allowed to contact them and if your name isn’t on that list…then you can’t speak to that patient. At all. Not even if you’re their Lawyer or have power of Attorney over them…you still can’t be put through unless listed.
I’ve had so many family members that are outraged not to be on the list. They get so angry and I think I’ve heard: “but I’m his Dad/Mom/child/Aunt/Cousin!!!” about 100 times a day. Yes, I get that…but the patient chose the people they listed for a reason and it’s my job to protect that patient from any harm or distress…so I don’t care what relationship you have to the patient (it honestly tears at my heart when Elderly people call asking after “my very best friend in the world” but aren’t listed) you are not speaking to them on my watch.
The first few weeks of saying “Sorry, but you’re not listed so I can’t transfer this call” were really, really hard. I hate conflict so constantly getting into it with strangers over the phone is something incredibly unpleasant for me…but as the weeks and months have gone by…I’m getting better at it. I remind myself that a vulnerable patient needs my help, so that makes me braver, I guess.
Yesterday broke my heart, though.
A woman rang, looking for her daughter “Rae”. I did a search and Rae’s file came up, with a warning highlighted by her name in bold letters, stating “This patient wishes to remain anonymous and requests absolutely no contact“
I checked with my Supervisor and she said that for all anonymous patients, we tell whoever is calling that the patient they’re after isn’t on our patient list.
I very gently told the woman on the phone that “Rae” wasn’t listed.
The woman immediately burst into tears.
“But I need to know my daughter is safe! Please, just tell me she’s in your hospital and I’ll leave you alone. Please”
I gently repeated my initial line about not finding Rae on our system.
This conversation was had on 7 different occasions yesterday because whoever this woman was, she was desperate to speak to her daughter and just kept calling and asking.
Every phone call with her…let’s call her “Anne” got more and more elaborate: “My daughter is in danger” “Rae isn’t mentally stable” “Rae needs special medication” “Rae has attempted suicide 7 times and needs me”
Every “reason” was so heart-wrenching that after her calls, I had to get up and go for a walk to the kitchen and breathe deeply to calm myself down.
It was the 8th call with “Anne” that pushed me over the edge. I explained as gently as I could that hospital policy is in place to protect the patients and is a strict rule I have to follow.
What came next is the reason I couldn’t sleep last night and why I feel so unsettled today: Anne gave a guttural roar. I’ve not heard such a thing in my life.
“PLEAAAASE!!! I need to speak to my daughter!!!” Anne roared “Please! PLEASE!!! I just need to know Rae is safe. Just tell me she’s a patient and I can have some peace!!! Please!!! Please just say she’s ok”.
“Ma’am…all I can do is tell you again that I can’t find your daughter on our system. There is nothing further I can provide”
I held my breath the entire time, bracing myself for another roar. These were primal. Anne’s voice was coming from deep, deep down in her being.
It was incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable to hear…when a person goes beyond the boundaries of “normal anger/distressed” and goes to a level of frightening.
I’ve often used the phrase “Lost my sh*t” (sorry Jesus) but that call with Anne was the first time I’ve ever experienced it in person.
I waited on the line while Anne cried. She wept.
“Just tell me” Anne was hysterical now: “TELL ME MY DAUGHTER IS IN YOUR HOSPITAL”
At this point my whole body is shaking and I’m so upset it’s hard to speak. I take deep breaths. My Supervisor is listening (I can tell by the tilt of her head and that she’s stopped typing and using the mouse) so I feel buoyed by that.
“Apologies, but I can’t help you with your query. You can either hang up (please hang up) or I can put you through to our Liaison Officer if you are unhappy with our procedure and wish to lodge a complaint”
Anne opted for the latter.
My boss gave a smile and a thumbs up.
I transferred the call.
I had to walk away and try to calm myself again in the kitchen. It didn’t work. That 8th call with Anne bothered me all day. It became a ghostly presence lingering in a darkened hallway of my mind.
Anne, you might well be Rae’s mother (I don’t know how to check if that’s true, my resources are limited). BUT. You could also be the very reason Rae is in hospital! Maybe you beat her? Abused her for years? Maybe you are why Rae’s mental health is supposedly “unstable”? Maybe you were behind each of her supposed suicide attempts?!?
I truly believe that Mom’s are supposed to protect and cherish their children. Mom’s are supposed to represent “home” to their children – a person they can always run to in times of trouble and know they are safe and loved. Mom’s are the ones who shield you, help you grow, encourage you and hold you close…
But some Mom’s are the cause of deep, lasting pain. Some Mother’s starve or beat their children. Some Mom’s abuse their children for years on end.
Families can be broken units. Children get hurt and badly abused by their parents. Not all families are happy, wholesome places. Not all parents are loving and trustworthy and not all siblings are best buddies.
It broke my heart yesterday that I can’t tell who is a good and who is a bad person from a phone conversation 💔 I can’t just assume that because you’re a Mom, you’re calling with good intentions.
Anne’s primal roar still echoes in my ears today.
Was the desperation I witnessed out of love…or a sinister obsession?
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