It's Hard to Separate from Longterm Caregivers

Editor's note: This article discusses the author's experience with a friend's suicide, which may be triggering to some readers.

A heartbreaking thing happened so many years ago that when I got the call, I picked up an actual phone to get the bad news.

I remember it like it was yesterday. My son, now 33, was in a stroller. It was a nice fall day. We had just gotten home from a walk. I ran into the house and picked up the phone.

It was a friend from the newspaper where I worked. She said my friend Kelly had jumped to her death from the University of Massachusetts library tower.

She had been the dance critic. I reviewed theater. We would go to each other’s assignments, picnicking beforehand on sweet summer evenings.

Losing a cargiver

One night when she didn’t answer my knock on the door, I called her husband. He was out and about. He went back home. Later he said I had saved her life. He didn’t tell me all the details. Just said she had tried to kill herself.

She was a deeply troubled person, so it’s hard to say what exactly pushed her to the edge the last time. But she was extremely upset about her therapist leaving the area. He was her lifeline. It could have been the last straw.

Most of us get attached to our caregivers, some more, some less.

My friend’s was an extreme reaction to having a lifeline broken.

More than a medical professional

I thought about this when, apparently without thinking it through, a scheduler told me in an email that I would no longer be able to see the nurse practitioner on whom I’ve depended for some 10 years.

I had inquired about changing an appointment with Melissa. The scheduler wrote back that she would be happy to change the appointment but I would see another nurse practitioner. Melissa was moving to another department.

I burst into tears.

She is more than a medical professional. She is my friend. She gave me her cellphone number. I know she’ll give me good advice and calm me down if I’m on a bind.

I paged Melissa. In case it didn’t go through, I also texted, “Can you call me?”

She called quickly. I started to talk but could barely get the words out.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

Who knows what she thought.

“It’s not my health,” I said quickly.

I told her that I just learned I couldn’t see her anymore.

Need for sensitivity from doctors and all staff

She said she hadn’t seen the email. She was sorry, she had wanted to talk to me in person. I moved some things around and went to see her the next day.

It turned out to be not exactly the way it had sounded. Her plans were up in the air. She still might be able to see me.

The distress I suffered wasn’t nearly on the same level as my friend’s.

But still, it could have been averted if the scheduler had asked Melissa what to do. I would have been upset, but not as upset as I was when I just got the partial picture in an email.

We talk frequently about the need for doctor sensitivity, but that need goes all down the line. The people who answer the phones and make the appointments are also part of the care team, and they need to be careful about what they say to patients, and about how they say it.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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