awareness, comfort, concern, fear, healing, non-verbal communication, observation, professionalism, respect
Now it was time to wait. I had come to receive treatment for a newly diagnosed eye condition. I was alone and with nothing to distract, I began watching and listening to the people around me.
My eyes moved around the waiting room and took in the canes, walkers, and wheelchairs; the patients accompanied by family or friends. I thanked God that I didn’t need walking aid and was able to drive myself to the clinic. I wondered about each person there. Was theirs a longstanding situation or were they dealing with a new diagnosis as I was?
One lady sitting in a wheelchair across from me seemed asleep, but then she suddenly began saying to the two ladies with her that she wanted to go home. Did she want to go home because she wasn’t feeling well? Was she dreading what she might hear today? Her companions didn’t seem too concerned and barely acknowledged that she had spoken. They appeared to be working from a list of people, calling each one to leave a message of concern and express their love for them. Yet here was this lady right there with them receiving little of their attention. Isn’t it the way with people; we look for some good act to do when there is an immediate need right in front of us?
The staff moved about through hallways and doorways at a fast clip. Each one was focused on the work that was theirs to do. They were professional and friendly, having no side conversations with one another that didn’t involve patient care. Their demonstration of being highly skilled in patient and family interaction was impressive. They had either been hired well or trained well. Most likely, both had occurred.
I’m a people watcher by nature, but I become even more so when I’m in a healthcare environment. For more than 25 years I worked in healthcare and that has made me overly sensitive to staff that isn’t professional. In fact, I was at this very clinic because the first ophthalmologist I saw had a staff that interacted playfully with one another but very little with their patients. The physician was rushed into each room by staff and it felt somewhat like I was on an assembly line. After three visits, I determined to find a better fit. This was my eyesight we were dealing with and I needed the utmost confidence in every player involved with my care.
Did you know that over 90% of communication is considered non-verbal? What a person “hears” involves body language, tonality, and attitude. When I began teaching communication techniques in 1984, Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, graded it as over 90% even then. That old adage of “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care” is sound advice.
I left the clinic grateful to have found a physician and staff that care about how they represent themselves to patients. That lets me and the others I watched in that waiting room relax into their care. We can come with confidence that highly skilled people are taking care of us and that goes a long way in how well we deal with our particular healthcare situations.
What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I left a very good doctor once for that reason. His staff was anythiing but polite or playful. It’s hard to describe but they never smiled and never said one word to me or looked at me unless necessary. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I could not stay with him. I had to find a good doctor with a professional staff but one who at last acknowledged my presence and smiled occasionally! It has a LOT to do with how you deal with whatever is troubling you. That extends to the general public in that a smile might change the whole day for a complete stranger. Even if my body is in pain, it does not hurt my face to smile. 🙂
Pat Luffman Rowland said:
Well said, Ernestine. Thank you.
Pat, this is such a critical message for all caregivers; a message we have often discussed. Most caregivers would probably say that they are “in the business” because they want to “help” people; however without a true heart for patients, it is sometimes difficult to see how our behavior can be misperceived. It only takes an experience like the one you described to be aware of the impact our behavior (even well-intended but insensitive) can have on those who are in need. It is overwhelming to realize the responsibility we have, but so tremendously rewarding when we take the time and effort to see and respond to another dear soul. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
Pat Luffman Rowland said:
Thanks for your words, Brenda. Your heart was always for the patient. May there always be sensitive individuals in roles of responsibility that understand patient care is about more than medicines and treatment plans.