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.

7 comments:

  1. "Kindness always matters". Your friend Sue is so absolutely right. I continue to be gobsmacked by the pervasive lack of people skills and manners I witness among healthcare providers. Because, like you, I spend lots of time in labs, I've been doing my own n=1 qualitative observational study on this lack among lab techs, so much so that I've been thinking of contacting the head of the chain of labs after I noticed in the Globe and Mail that she'd just been awarded some big award.

    The other day I drove a friend to the lab for blood tests, and the tech was so charming, so funny and so engaging that both of us commented afterwards how astonishing it was to encounter such a positive role model for what lab techs could be.

    Your "I don't have help today" example is perfect: recently I had to politely ask a clearly distracted lab tech, muttering miserably about her workday as she bustled about, if she'd like to leave the room and take a few breaths to calm herself down before she did my needle poke. Boy, what a difference that uppity question made: it was as if she suddenly noticed that a real live person was sitting in front of her! Simply saying things like "I'm sorry, I don't think you shared your name with us today" is a start - but begs the eternal question: why do WE have to ask for common courtesy, or handwashing, or ? ? ? Thanks Isabel for this important essay!
    hugs,
    C.

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    1. I like your 'uppity question' Carolyn! I think we need more of those, but it does beg the question 'Why?'. Why do we need more of those? Why are good manners, respect, and kindness not the standard? I'm going to follow up with the lab manager about this interaction. As my good friend Dr. Christine Chambers said, there I was, a parent following the best practices of #ItDoesntHaveToHurt and I was given the gears about it. Something went wrong there, and it needs to be fixed.

      People have asked me how my son was with it. And, to be honest, he took it in stride. He took it in stride *because he's used to it*. This is not ok. He shouldn't be used to it. It changes here. It changes now. We will all make sure of that.

      Thanks for the hugs Carolyn and thanks for reading.

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  2. this is a great post! Thanks for writing & sharing. I'm in wholehearted agreement!

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    1. Thanks for reading! Let's all make sure that they get with the program and treat patients with the kindness and respect we all deserve. Not every patient has and aggressively smiling mama like me with them - and they shouldn't have to in order to get treated properly.

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  3. Thank you for this. As someone who grew up with a chronic illness, I developed a very thick skin exactly because the medical profession expected me to. I still remember having my knee drained without freezing and the nurse too busy flirting with the doctor to hold my hand. I learned that crying doesn't change anything, so I stopped crying.
    PS great tip on asking for the name!

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    1. That makes me so sad - the whole developing thick skin thing. That's the part of the culture that has to change. That's what I want different for my kids (and well, for myself too). It's health *care*, isn't it. You deserve better, Lene.

      On the name thing, Lene, nobody touches or looks at me or my kids any more without telling us their name. That's the bare minimum. And actually, I've seen some real improvement on that front the past couple of years. And where it doesn't happen without my prompt, it does make them pause a moment, and I think, remember that we're all human being there in the room together. :)

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