The phone rang and lit up an orange box at the top of my screen, indicating that a new call was coming in.
This was to be my 1st call of the day for work and 200-300 more were to come. That’s my usual work day and I’m slowly starting to get used to it.
I answer formally and listen as an older gentleman asks for details of his friend.
My heart sinks at the words “I know you won’t be able to tell me anything because I’m not next of Kin…but I’ve tried the family members of my friend and noone is answering. I’m so worried about “Catrina” and just need to know she’s ok, please…or can you at least tell me if she’s in your hospital or if she’s been discharged?”
He asked so nicely and had such a friendly voice that I liked him right away.
“I can’t tell you any details” I confirmed “but I can at least tell you if Catrina is in our hospital”
I type in her full name and it pops up on my screen – with the word “DECEASED” next to her name in capitals and bold.
“Err…” I swallow, my heart aching because I’m not allowed to tell this guy his friend died the day before.
“Take your time, dear” he tries his best to be kind to me.
“I can tell you that Catrina is in our hospital” I finally manage to say.
In our morgue.
“Oh my life, thank you! I’m so glad” his relief is palpable…as if he’d been holding his breath all week and could finally exhale.
“I was so worried!” The older gentleman continued “You see, my son was Hospitalised years ago and the staff were absolutely brilliant – so I can rest now knowing my friend is in good hands. Thank you! I’ve had such a long week of worrying” he laughed. It was a warm, nice sound.
It was my undoing, really.
Maybe it was because he sounded so genuinely relieved and like such a caring man? But I found myself risking my job to tell this old fellow his friend was dead.
“Sir” I lowered my voice “I need you to really listen to me now. I’m risking my job to tell you something very important, so I can only say this once and I need you to listen very carefully and try to understand what I’m trying to tell you without saying it directly…ok?”
Immediately I felt a shift in the atmosphere.
My friend Lisa who sits to my right stopped munching on her cereal and turned to me with eyebrows raised in question and surprise, silently asking me “what are you doing?“
I pulled a “sorry, please bear with me” face and Lisa nodded and turned back to her monitor to answer a call.
“Oh” the caller said “OK. I’m listening”
Carefully. Quietly. Firmly I spoke:
“Although I can confirm your friend is listed as in our hospital…she is actually no longer with us. Do you understand what I’m saying, sir?”
“Oh no” his voice dropped too, as if he was whispering to help me keep a low profile “Are you saying she’s died?”
“Yes. I’m so sorry”
“Oh no” he said again.
After a beat, he said “Well…this explains why the family aren’t answering or returning my calls, they must all be grieving and now a nosy old man is making things worse. That poor family. Oh dear. Ok. Well. That’s that, then” he sighed sadly.
I liked that the caller considered the family before himself. I felt at peace with my risk and felt I had done the right thing, even though I was breaking every rule to do so.
“I so appreciate you risking your job to put this old man at ease” he tried to comfort me “You can rest assured that I promise not to tell anyone that I heard it from you”.
It was my turn to feel relieved.
“Thank you, so much!” I laughed “I so appreciate that”
“…And I appreciate you taking the risk to tell me about my friend. I feel so much better knowing, thank you for doing that. You have been rather impressive, young lady. I’ll look you up next time I visit the hospital…can I ask your name?”
At this point I was in so deep it didn’t seem to matter. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?
“Oh lovely” he laughed “I’m Clive! Nice to meet you!”
We hung up a minute later and I just felt peace.
If I get fired at some point for breaking confidential information, I don’t know why, but I feel ok with that.
Here’s to you, Clive. I’m so sorry you lost your friend. By the sounds of my brief interaction with you, though – you sound like a man who has loads of them.