Be the compassion in healthcare.
Recently, I was struck by a conversation I had with a patient who had been told she had "small amount of calcium on her heart walls that we should continue to monitor."
No explanation by her cardiologist as to what that meant (or if there was she tuned it out).
The news was delivered as if she was a machine.
This, compounded by also being she would need a stent at "some point."
As if she was a ticking time bomb.
If you didn't know... LANGUAGE MATTERS.
From a neurological perspective, language can make all the difference in a patient's motivation and belief systems, and influence the imprint of those beliefs on the brain. The stronger the negative imprint, the greater the fear, the lower the result in positive lifestyle changes.
This particular patient was worried enough to reach out to talk about her fear, which is incredibly rare. Many patients never reach out for help. (BTW - Did you know that people spend less time deciding on surgery than they do buying a car? True story).
Through our discussion, I discovered that she had a lack of knowledge about her diagnosis, and held the belief that she was on the down-slope of life. As a result, she had stopped moving forward with creating positive changes that would keep her heart condition from progressing.
She was leading life as a death sentence.
This led us to a conversation about lifestyle. Most of the conversation focused around goal-setting. I found she had set completely unrealistic goals that left her feeling defeated. We set more reasonable goals. I gave her the standard heart-diet-exercise-nutrition-speech that nurses always give, and then wrapped up what was a very nice, tidy conversation.
Then something remarkable happened.
I realized I wasn't done. In fact, I had a lot more to say.
I took five minutes to dig, I found some additional resources that could help, and trusted my own knowledge and voice from twenty years experience in motivating students through movement. I picked up the phone called the patient back and said, "We're not done here yet, I have more."
The whole encounter took ten minutes. The patient was teary with gratitude on the phone, and I gave myself a high-five.
We ALL have ten minutes to make that kind of magic happen.
I don't share this story because I think I am a fabulous nurse (admittedly, I do work remarkably hard to be fabulous). I share this story because we can all do better than this. I share this because compassion is what they taught every medical professional to do in school, but against the pressure of time, insurance, peers, and industry we all regularly fail.
LANGUAGE IS THE QUICKEST GATEWAY TO EMPOWERMENT.
I entered medicine to find out why my clients in my Live Pain Free practice often show up already identifying as "broken." As I have gone deeper and deeper into the language of healthcare I have begun to rage against an industry that treats our patients as if they are machines needing to be fixed. As a result, I have made a conscious decision to only work at establishments that believe in compassionate healthcare. I have quickly come to realize that "empowerment language" is contagious. I'm starting conversations about it at my incredibly open, innovative workplaces. I am creating presentations, curriculum and having conversations with inspired healthcare leaders who all believe we can do better.
FYI - I'm not perfect at it either. This issue is even bigger than the healthcare system. We are all cultured into the idea of "broken." Like learning a foreign language, empowerment language also takes an immense amount of practice.
But we ALL simply must do better than this.
I would say this to medical professionals in particular - you didn't pay all that money to get all that knowledge in your head to not share it. So share it. Take the ten minutes. Go the extra step. Have a little moxie and trust your own damn voice. You might change someone's life, or not... but at least you know you tried.