Sadly, this is an inevitable part of being an NHS patient for over twenty years, where your carers often need over thirty years of education to complete your treatment.
Whilst being a cleft lip and palate patient there have only been three particular retirements that I remember and that I believe had an impact on me. The first was my first orthodontist. When I was five he made me cry when he took impressions of my teeth without telling me he was going to do so. He seemed stern and unsympathetic, so when it came to starting my orthodontic work at nine years old, I was dreading it. In actual fact, we ended up getting on extremely well. I warmed to him and knew I could ask him any question I wanted about my treatment. So, when I was thirteen and the day came for him to retire, I was very anxious that he had to leave. I was worried that my second orthodontist wouldn’t know what she was doing and I worried I wouldn’t be able to build the same trust in her as I had her predecessor. Luckily, after just a few appointments I felt entirely comfortable. She made me feel listened to and was very sympathetic when it came to the more painful parts of orthodontic treatment. Although I’d had my reservations about the change, it took a lot less time for me to warm to her than my old orthodontist, and over the next six and a half years we built up a very trustful understanding.
The second retirement was of the surgeon who did my bone graft. Every other year, after this surgery, I would regularly meet with him and the rest of my cleft team to discuss how my treatment was going and to gradually introduce the next stages of treatment and when these were expected to take place. It had always been expected that he would be the one to do my jaw surgery. So, when the year of my surgery came and he retired, I was extremely worried about the new person that would replace him. This worry increased when I was told I wasn’t ready for surgery in the summer I’d been told I’d have it. However, I soon got to know my new jaw surgeon, and over the last few years have developed a very close relationship with her. She has really helped through all the complications (obviously, she is ridiculously clever), but she made everything seem very personal and I know she cared a lot about me.
Finally, although I didn’t need to see any of the team psychologists regularly, there were occasions when having someone who was ‘clued-up’ on clefts was invaluable for helping me through my darker moments. This was particularly important after I felt I’d been let down after a few miscommunications between my different medical teams and after my first jaw surgery didn’t work. I had a lot of trust worries and I really leant on the support of the team psychologist. Sadly, one day I rang after feeling particularly worried about my septorhinoplasty (reconstructive nose surgery), and I was told that he had left the team. There was a new psychologist that I could speak to, but I was so shocked that I simply said not to worry. His leaving really threw me and I felt quite isolated. However, a few weeks later, I received a call from the cleft team. I had filled out a questionnaire about my treatment a while back, and the new psychologist was ringing to see how I was doing. This gesture spoke volumes to me and it made me remember how caring our specialists really are. Although it was sad for my old psychologist to leave, the new one was incredibly lovely and has helped me come to terms with parts of my treatment and has helped me feel happier now it’s finishing.
No matter who comes or goes, there are always people who want to help and look after you. Although it can be tough to get used to new people and accept change, the fundamentally caring nature of a cleft team is always a stable factor in any cleft treatment.