Picture those you love
Knowing the session topic was on patient experience, many of us had a sense of foreboding about what might happen next. A nurse at my table gave voice to what the rest of us were dreading by asking, “You're not going to tell us something that will make us all cry now, will you”? The speaker smiled and reminded us that every person we contact in healthcare is pictured in someone's cell phone or wallet. She simply suggested that we keep in mind the feelings we have for those we love when we encounter others. I think we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It's telling that we worried about the anticipatory emotional pain of having our speaker take us through an exercise that would somehow incorporate our loved ones into a sad story. That would be too close for comfort.
In our healthcare world, we often erect walls around our hearts to enable enough professional distance to keep us focused and objective despite difficult or tragic circumstances. Those walls are a survival strategy. They reduce our own vulnerability to emotional pain from constantly being immersed in situations that those outside of healthcare can hardly fathom. Much like scar tissue, however, the walls can become too thick.
Each of us who's had the unfortunate experience of being on the other side of the bed rails, whether as a patient or as a family member, wants to feel a caring connection. Our patients do, too. We can't lose sight of that. Distance and vulnerability are on two different ends of the caring spectrum. We each need to find a balance that doesn't exclude patients. When in doubt, consider whose picture is on your cell phone.