Thursday, 1 June 2017

Kindness shouldn't be blue sky thinking


Kindness shouldn't be blue sky thinking
"I don't have any help today". The technician looked annoyed. I wasn't sure she was talking to us, initially. Frankly, it was an odd thing to say out of the blue after calling us into the room. I looked around, to see if she could have been talking to someone else.

I must have looked at her with the obvious question on my face of 'what are you talking about? It was then she kind of looked down at my slightly nervous, ill, skinny 15yo, like he was annoying her. Down at his arm, where we had put some topical anesthetic and a clear bandage where he preferred to get his blood drawn, and suddenly I understood.

Oh no. Not today. I'm not having that today. I put on my biggest, friendliest smile - looked right in her eyes and said "I'm sorry, I don't think you shared your name with us today." She was not coming at my son with that attitude and a needle without at least introducing herself to him (and to me). I guess #HelloMyNameIs hasn't made it's way to the lab at my local hospital yet. She was taken aback for a moment (my name? I need to tell them my name?) and then introduced herself. Only then did I tell her that my son, who although is ill, and nervous, is an old pro.

Our family, more than most, knows about #ItDoesntHaveToHurt. After a lifetime of painful procedures our son spent literally years of his life working with a therapist and on his own overcoming needle phobia. And despite the fact that his underlying rare disease makes it so that the topical anesthetic does little to help him, he is the king coper. He is a pro. This is not his first, nor will it be his last day at the rodeo.

I didn't tell her any of that. But I'll tell you what I did want to say. That when faced with a clearly nervous, unwell young man, she chose to meet him with hostility instead of kindness. I don't know what was going on in her mind. It was the end of her day. Was she nervous? Do her employers give her the tools to help those with needle anxiety? Does she feel safe in the job she does? I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But I have to say, in the moment, I didn't give a good hot damn. She is a front-facing healthcare provider working with people of all ages and abilities. If she can't meet them with kindness, she'd better demand the tools to do so, or find something else to do. Because she's not coming near him with that attitude again.

A lot of health care interactions could be improved by the simple acts of exchanging pleasantries, manners, treating patients as human beings. I truly don't understand why this doesn't happen more. So many of our (meaning our son's) healthcare interactions have happened and continue to happen in blood labs and medical day units. His perceptions of what healthcare is, whether it's comfortable, friendly, frightening, or even mundane have been framed by these experiences. It's all well and good to talk about partnership with your primary care provider and specialists, but we need to get it right here too. How young patients feel about these interactions may determine how readily they seek medical care later. As my good friend Sue Robins always tells me, kindness always matters. She's right.