Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Spring/Summer Issue 2014 | A Day in the Life of a Paediatric ENT Surgeon
Mrs Helen Caulfield is a consultant paediatric ENT surgeon at The Portland and The Royal Free Hospital. She has special interests in airway problems in children, sleep apnoea and snoring, glue ear, sinus infections and tongue-tie. Here she describes a typical day.
“My day starts with my alarm going off at 6.40am every morning and I get dressed as I listen to the Radio 4 Today programme. My husband Jason, a corporate financier, gets up around the same time.
I wake up our daughters Hannah, 14, and Mary, 11, by taking them up a tray of hot chocolate and cereal so that we can all be ready to leave the house fairly quickly. I grab an espresso, a banana and an energy bar for breakfast.
After dropping the girls off, I head for whichever hospital I’m working at that day. If I’m operating, I’ll leave at 7.40am and be at work by 8am.
Next stop is the ward where I’ll talk to all the children and their parents who will be having surgery. A big part of my job is reassuring parents. I tell them: ‘Leave all the worrying to me’ and they trust me. My job is hard but it doesn’t feel like it – it comes naturally to me and I’m happy to take responsibility. I’m a ‘Type A’ personality and will analyse every possible scenario in any situation, so when it comes to my work I’m relaxed because I’m so experienced.
I love knowing that I can give children the gift of wellness and completely turn their lives around. I’ll operate on five children on an average day, plus emergencies. I may be removing peanuts or beads from the lungs of children who have inhaled them, or dealing with complications of obstructive sleep apnoea, tonsillitis, mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone) or sinus disease.
I use coblation technology - wands which use radio frequency energy to dissolve bulky soft tissue including tonsils and adenoids. It’s gentler than laser surgery because it is at room temperature and we don’t have to cut so there’s no bleeding and only a little pain, and children can usually go home the same day. Before the operation I tell children that I’ll be using my operating wand – I think they like that image – like something out of Harry Potter.
I’ll dash up to the ward at 1pm and check in with all the parents and children again. Then I’ll buy a sandwich – always the same one – prawn and mayonnaise on wholemeal bread - and head for the clinic, making myself a mug of black tea with honey en route. I honestly enjoy every minute of the day – I adore working with children and interacting with them and explaining things.
Most of the children I see are very young and the youngest ones are the newborns with tongue-tie, a medical condition which makes it difficult for babies to breastfeed successfully. This is a condition I’ve developed an interest in. It’s particularly rewarding to help these babies who have not previously been thriving and their mothers who may have been distressed.
Clinics often won’t end until 7pm. I then head home to help Hannah and Mary with their homework and have a chat before bedtime. Jason and I will eat chicken or fish with vegetables or salad. I rarely drink alcohol or have time to watch TV. To unwind I’ll take our two cock-a-poos Cocoa and Toffee out to Hampstead Heath for a walk.
Jason and I will talk through the day and turn in for bed at 10pm, listening to Radio 4 as we drift off to sleep. I sleep like a log.”
As told to Jo Waters