Kathryn Davies, manager at the Well pharmacy in Gorseinon, Swansea, tells C+D about a life-changing occasion when she went beyond the call of duty to save a woman who was considering taking her own life.
I have worked in community pharmacy for 12 years, and since November 2015 I have been a pharmacy manager.
I’d been in the role for five months when a customer, a patient who would regularly visit for medications for her mental illness, came to the pharmacy asking to see me personally. I didn’t find this unusual, because over the years I have always built up good relationships with customers.
That day she appeared distressed, so I asked her into the consultation room for a chat. It turned out she had been in a fight with her partner, which had left her with marks on her body – she was bruised and bleeding.
She had left her partner, but didn’t have anywhere to go. Her partner had told her he didn’t care if she died. In her conversation with me, she was telling me things like she "didn’t want to be here anymore", and that she wanted to hurt herself.
I was taken aback. I had never experienced this kind of situation before. But I stayed with her. We talked for an hour about her past history, which involved domestic abuse and sexual harm. I was not prepared to leave her, I felt very responsible for her.
I asked if she wanted me to contact a family member and she asked for her daughter. While waiting for her to arrive, I suggested she think about speaking to a professional in mental health, who might also give her access to a safe place to stay for the night.
By the time her daughter arrived – who was also very distressed, and I needed to calm her down as well – the patient had agreed for me to contact the police, who could take her to the local mental health crisis team.
By this point, I had been in the consultation room for about two and half hours. My main concern was to make sure the woman did not harm herself. While we waited for the police to arrive – I had informed them that there was a potentially suicidal patient at the pharmacy – I concentrated on keeping the woman and her daughter calm. We live in a close community, and the woman used to go to the local youth club my dad ran, so we talked about days gone by, and I did everything I could to keep her distracted.
Calm in a crisis
By the time the police came she was calmer and not as erratic. They felt she did not need to be sectioned, but taken to A&E to be assessed. As she left with her daughter, she thanked me, and gave me a hug. This experience broke my heart. There was a lot to take in, and afterwards I cried.
The following day I contacted the police to check on the patient, who told me the woman had been admitted to hospital, and that her family had said she was doing ok. I could rest much easier then. I have not seen her since, but have heard that she’s got somewhere to stay that is safe.
Reflecting on the experience
My actions that day were positively received by my colleagues in the pharmacy team, and I have been praised for what I did. I was one of nine Well employees from across the country to receive a company award for having made an outstanding impact in the local community.
Looking back, it was one of those situations that you do not expect to face. But such an experience brings home the reality: that we all need to help each other out. It gives you a fresh perspective on what’s going on in people’s lives.
It also reminded me that the service pharmacy offers is more than just supplying medicines. The people who come to us talk about their lives, and they become almost like a family.
What I experienced that day has since helped me to deal with other sensitive situations in the pharmacy, to be more empathetic and to better relate to people. It can be easy to live in your own bubble – but these sorts of experiences open your eyes to what is going on in the world around you.
Patient care is increasingly important in today’s challenging pharmacy environment. While we are often tied up with meeting targets and getting things done, we can miss opportunities to support people. Sometimes that support means just spending a bit of time with people.
I was lucky that day that I had the support of a team who kept the branch going while I was dealing with a patient who needed my help – and it made all the difference.
The Samaritans provides information on the kinds of problems that put people at risk of suicide, and signs that people may need support. You can find out more here.