We all have turning points in our life: the first kiss, marriage, having kids, divorce, or, coming out ……
Two weeks ago my son was officially discharged from Southampton General Hospital by his oncologist, Dr Ramya Ramanujachar, after a 10-year follow-up as an outpatient.
My son is only 13. His illness 12 years ago was undoubtedly a turning point in my life.
The NHS saves his life. The moment my child was seen by Dr Keith Foote in Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, he was in safe hands.
I remember on Christmas Eve in 2001, after examining his very young patient, Dr Foote asked us to wait outside his office as he made a few urgent phone calls.
Within half an hour, Dr Foote organised a team to conduct various scans. Two hours later, we were on our way to Southampton General Hospital. We were greeted by our first oncologist of Piam Brown unit, children’s oncology and haematology centre.
My son was given a private cosy room, with toys, a television with many children’s movies on VHS tapes.
After a blood transfusion, tests and an operation, my son was diagnosed with Langerhans’ cell histiocytosis (LCH), and his treatment plan included a year of chemotherapy.
I was catapulted into a strange new community in a foreign hospital ward.
In our final consultation two weeks ago, my son’s last oncologist Dr Ramya Ramanujachar explained his illness with him, and advised him to lead a healthy lifestyle. She empowered the teenager to become more aware of the symptoms of the disease, to understand his own body, and manage his life.
The gift of compassion
I’m grateful how a young life is saved by a strong team of highly-skilled people, who also have the gift of compassion.
I see how communication mattered.
In my son’s medical notes, there were correspondences from experts from around the country. These experts might not have found the cure, as there is no cure, they worked together to find the best solution.
One of the correspondences was between the oncologist from Piam Brown ward and the oncologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital. My son’s chemotherapy for the first 6 months didn’t reach the desired result, and with discussion between the experts, our oncologist decided to extend the duration of therapy for a further 6 months, with additional dose of another chemotherapy drugs.
After a total of a 12-month chemotherapy treatment, my son’s condition improved, and was in remission soon afterwards.
I’m grateful for the generosity and expertise of the medical team in the hospital. Has it changed my perspective on life? Certainly it has.
However, what happened when communication failed?
Before we were thrown into the surreal world full of very sick children, we were shrouded in anxiety for more than two months. As a mother who knew her baby was quite ill, I took my son to the GPs many times. I walked up and down the hill several times a week to seek help. We saw many experienced GPs. I also took my baby to the out-of-office clinic late at night.
No one listened to me, a new mother.
There didn’t seem to be communication between the GPs who had all seen the same ill baby, who was deteriorating.
The turning point
One morning, a new, young locum doctor spent time asking me more thorough questions. She made a referral. At that moment, I found I was finally understood by a doctor, a young, and possibly inexperienced doctor. This new doctor in Chandler’s Ford became a turning point in our life.
I never met this doctor again. She might have just worked in Chandler’s Ford for a short while. She might not have known that by referring a sick and weakened baby to Winchester to seek a second opinion, she had saved a life. She also saved the child’s parents from despair.
A few people asked me to ‘sue’ the GPs who had misdiagnosed and delayed my son’s treatment, as if taking ‘revenge’ would make me happy. I decided to move on from the feeling of hurt and mistrust. After my son finished his treatment at the hospital, I changed the GP. The trust had long been broken.
We found a compassionate GP in another surgery in Chandler’s Ford. I have no regret.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve seen how a precious life is saved by the medical team at the NHS at a very high level: expertise, precision, generosity, and their gift of compassion. This includes many specialised nurses, who clearly love children.
How has the turning point in your life shaped you? How has my turning point changed me?