Have you ever been in a hospital or doctor’s office, feeling vulnerable, anxious, uncertain, or just plain old terrified? Have you ever personally experienced—or witnessed another person’s—excruciating pain—either physical or mental? Maya Angelou, writer and activist, wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is especially relevant in healthcare.
In occupational therapy and nursing, we work with people who are not having the best days of their lives. They may be in physical pain, or adjusting to life with a new diagnosis, or putting their lives back together following a devastating accident or a stroke. Perhaps they have a degenerative condition or a mental illness. Regardless, our words and actions have a huge impact on how each person feels.
I have 2 experiences to share. On New Year’s Day, 1999, my daughter (who was 5 at the time) was rushed to the hospital with meningococcal septicemia. In a nutshell, this is one of those diseases that should be on your “top 5 of diseases to never catch”!! Rapidly progressing, it has a high mortality rate and a high level of disability in survivors. Like a deer in the headlights, I stood in the ER watching Dr. C and the team working to save my daughter.
Later that day, and over the following days, Dr. C spoke to me with kindness and compassion, explaining the procedures and tests, and what the outcome may be. While I don’t remember his words, or all of the details of those days, I absolutely remember that Dr. C made me feel that I could trust him and that he genuinely cared. He was sensitive to the amount of information I could process. He made me feel that my input as a parent was of value and was worth listening to. My amazing daughter is alive today without any significant disabilities because of Dr. C. What more can I possibly say??!
I wrote a previous blog post about my granddaughter, “M”, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 2. While she was in the PICU at Albany Med the day after her diagnosis, I met another incredible caregiver, Dr. R. Dr. R is a pediatric endocrinologist, and although she must have had many other patients to see that day, she didn’t make us feel that way. She sat with M’s mom and dad, who were in a state of shock, confusion, and bewilderment, and calmly and clearly explained what they would need to do each and every day to keep M alive and healthy.
Dr. R made us feel that our questions, concerns, and tears were valid, and that she had all the time we needed to share her expertise. I remember clearly how she inspired normalcy even though M was still a very sick child at that point. Telling us that despite a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, M would still be able to do gymnastics, swim, eat birthday cake, go to college, have children…Dr. R created a new, strong foundation to stand on, replacing the one that had just been ripped away. She let us feel hope.
As I begin my Level II Fieldwork placements as an occupational therapy assistant student, I carry with me the feelings ignited by these 2 amazing people. I hope that in my practice as a student and then as an OTA, I will demonstrate the kindness, care and compassion shown by Dr. R and Dr. C!
OT snippet: In occupational therapy, we nurture and practice “therapeutic use of self”. This is an ongoing, evolving art of relating to patients/clients with empathy, genuineness, sensitivity, respect, self-disclosure, warmth, and inspiring trust and human connection. It is the process of being aware of one’s self, of what is being communicated, and of truly listening. In the OTA program at Maria College, students learn this concept during the first few days of classes. It is deeply embedded throughout all subsequent courses, so that by the time we enter fieldwork we (hopefully!) have a strong understanding of the therapeutic relationship.