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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Touch Me

The health-care system I work for (Wellstar) is one of the top 10 in the nation, and it got to be that way because we re-constructed the whole health-care model.

Simply put, we engage ourselves with the person, not just the ailment. From the moment he or she walks in until the time they leave, they are our guest.

As part of the "interaction" with the patient, we are asked to touch them briefly to establish trust and empathy, and although I know it's appreciated by all, I can feel the appreciation more by our more senior patients. Those are the ones in whose hands I place my own, and we establish our interaction in this way.

I am always very careful to direct my questions to my patient until such time I find out that he or she may not be able to answer for themselves, but the hand remains, and 99% of the time my own hand is grasped tightly, and my patient's eyes "speak" to me. They are saying, "Be kind to me, heal me but don't hurt me", and I do my best to comply.

Why am I telling you this?

Hell, I don't know. Maybe because I think I, myself might be holding someone's hand very tightly one day - not able to speak - except with my eyes, and maybe - just maybe - my eyes will look into that other person's, and they'll be able to understand that I'm afraid and need some comfort.

It's good to think about those things. It keeps you humble, and it makes you pay attention to people and lets you gauge their level of empathy.

Having been in the medical field for most of my adult years, I've run the gamut of emotions about pain and death. I've joked about it (it's called "gallows humor"), I've cried when we lost a little one or someone who has been fighting one of the neuro-muscular or lung diseases, I've been 'sobered' when we couldn't save someone in their 30's who'd just had a heart attack, and I have gone to funerals of some of my patients to whom I had gotten really close.

No matter what people in the health care field might tell you about being able to "shake it off", it all leaves a scar. You may not be able to see it, but every now and then, those of us who work in life or death situations will just get quiet in some corner somewhere and think to ourselves that all life is finite, and that includes us as well.

Now that I know what I know, I'm not as haughty or arrogant, and I pay a lot more attention.

Does that mean I've lived a hypocritical life?

1 comment:

Suzette said...

You know Bill, I know you from the SDMB (I'm Bobettie on there, used to be Zette) and I wanted to tell you this: I've been on the receiving end of some extremely unpleasant health care, especially when I was young, and people like you who treated me with respect, who cared how I felt and who looked me in the eyes meant the world to me. You've done more good than you will ever know and you've touched countless lives, I can guarantee it. I still remember the nurse who would bring me ice cream when he took his break at 10pm. I was alone without many visitors after serious spinal surgery and hardly slept. One night he came to check on me and asked if I wanted some ice cream. He brought me some and just sat and watched TV for his lunch break and then left and did that each night that I was there. I tear up now just thinking about it. I doubt he even remembers it, but it stuck with me and always will. It made me a better health care provider when I worked in hospital pharmacy for years and I think it made me a better person overall. Thanks for all you've done.