If in sixty years from now my son or daughter is admitted to a healthcare facility, how would I want them to be treated? That’s the question I have frequently asked myself over my career as I have worked with patients. I ask myself that because I want to create and maintain a level of compassion for my patients and a passion for my profession. Sixty years from now I’ll be 116 years old, so it’s not likely that I’ll be the one providing care to my children. It will be someone else, and whoever it is, I want him or her to treat my children with respect, kindness and compassion.
I know that the patients we care for are not actually our family members. I also know that when I or a member of my family needs care, it’s not typically going to be a family member caring for us. However, if we can treat, and be treated, with respect, kindness and compassion, then the world changes.
A few months ago my wife, Cindy, was hospitalized for minor surgery. The nurses who cared for her were great! It made everything so much easier. However, there was one nurse aide for whom caring for my wife seemed to be a chore. This aide always had a reason why my Cindy would just have to wait, because the aide would get to her as soon as she could. The aide, of course, explained how busy she was and how many other patients she had to take care of and besides she hadn’t really slept all that well the night before. All these months later I can still picture that aide’s face in my mind. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the faces of all the nurses that were so kind. Because of the nurses that were so kind I would use that hospital again. Just because they were kind. I suspect that the medical care would be the same in any hospital, but those nurses helped Cindy to feel comfortable and safe at a time when she was in pain. I suspect that I can vividly remember the face of that one aide because, even to this day, the thought of her elicits a strong negative emotion in me.
The point of all of this is to remind each of us how important respect, kindness and compassion are in our relationships with our patients:
Take the time to listen
Have you ever dealt with someone, in any type of relationship where the other person just didn’t listen to what you had to say? Often in healthcare people are so busy they just don’t take the time to listen. Listening to someone lets that person know that they matter and that you care about what they have to say.
Make eye contact
It’s funny, but when someone looks at you, right in the eyes, and holds your gaze, it means a lot. You can tell a lot about a person by the type of eye contact that they make.
Patients in healthcare situations often feel isolated, lost and alone. They have lost something. They are out of that place where they feel comfortable. They are at the mercy of others. Appropriate physical contact, a handshake, a touch on the arm, etc. can be reassuring.
Say what you mean…
Be appropriately honest with people. I once heard a definition of maturity as “the ability to honestly speak your mind while maintaining consideration for the feelings of the person that you are speaking too”
…and do what you say
If you tell someone that you are going to do something for them, then DO IT. Nothing says “you don’t matter to me” more that broken promises, missed appointments and the resultant excuses.
When I think about my children someday needing to be cared for by someone else, I cry a little. After all I’m their dad! I want to take care of them. I want them to be safe. I want them to know they are loved. Each of the people that we take care of everyday was, at some point, someone’s child. Please think about this as we are working with our patients!