helpline 01494 601 400

A day in the life of a helpline operator


9 June 2016

We followed around one of our helpline operators for a day to find out the challenges and rewards of working on our helpline.

Just before 9am and the lines are quiet and there is tranquility in the Helpline office.  A colleague and myself read the notice board and acquaint ourselves with any current news relating to the world of epilepsy. There is a news story about someone with epilepsy being refused access to a fast-food restaurant, and a medication update, we wonder if either will generate calls.

First call

At 9am the phone lines become live and we wait expectantly for the phone to ring. Fifteen minutes later there hasn’t been a call and we both comment on the possibility of a quiet day. Suddenly, almost simultaneously both lines come alive. We wait the obligatory three rings, compose ourselves, and answer in unison like a couple of synchronized swimmers. “Epilepsy helpline, good morning…”

‘Helpline life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get…’

Helpline telephoneMy first call of the day is from a care worker wanting to know what potential help is available for a client. It’s an information based call, we cover information about alarms and support groups, I signpost to various organisations and offer to send a factsheet with details. The call lasts around ten minutes, and as soon as the call ends another comes through. This time, the content of the call is around welfare benefits and a failed application. The caller is frustrated and feels that the benefits assessment completely failed to understand both her, and her condition. The caller wants to know what we as Epilepsy Society are doing about it.

There is a feeling of injustice in the tone of the caller’s voice. I try to allow her to express her feelings, to be angry, to describe her frustration. As time passes her frustration subsides and gives way to a calmer rhythm. She says that she feels better for talking about it, for, “getting it off her chest”. As I take her address to send the benefits guide, she thanks me for the chance to speak, for the chance to be heard.

Further calls come through: A GP wanting clarity around the driving regulations, an employer on how to support an employee with the condition, a care home Manager wants to talk about protocols for administering emergency medication. The morning passes with a steady stream of calls.

A moment of silence

Around noon I answer the phone and am met with a moment of silence. I instinctively sense the caller on the line. I wait and allow a space to for the caller to enter. They begin tentatively, unsteady words, a sigh, shallow breaths. I wait, then offer, “its ok, take your time…” Over the next forty minutes a well of immeasurable grief opens up in the caller’s splintered voice. The caller recounts the loss of a child to the condition. My role is to hold the caller, to be with them, to bear witness to their grief and allow them to explore it in her own way. She leads, I follow. As the minutes pass, the caller touches her own grief and cries freely. Slowly, there is a shift in her tone, a little more calmness, her breathing more constant. Her wave of grief slightly less intense, she begins to talk about other things. As she brings the call to a close, she is so grateful. I notice a colleague has brought a mug of tea and placed it quietly down by my side. - Tea, a token of support within the Helpline team.

Epilepsy Society Helpline 01494 601400

Monday and Tuesday 9am to 4pm,
Wednesday 9am to 7.30pm
Confidential. National call rate.


Making a small difference to someone’s life

The Helpline can echo characteristics of the condition itself, in that the calls are diverse, individual and bespoke. You never really know the range or depth of call until you’ve dived in. Each day is different, but the team’s support and approach remains constant – To Listen, Support and inform. Support extending not only to the callers, but also to each other, the team being more than the sum of it’s parts.

The role is rewarding, challenging and fulfilling. Almost everyday, there is a chance to make a small difference to someone’s life.

Just £17 could fund a helpline call

Our helpline answers thousands of calls every year, supporting people in moments of extreme stress, when they need a listening ear and want accurate information. Donate now to keep this vital service going.