Mental Sunshine and Flowers 723.2

Dave had to undergo painful throat surgery. Since he wasn’t a young man and made his living as a professional speaker, the experience was frightening and traumatic.

He told me his surgeon was skilled and the hospital workers were competent, but the cold indifference of the parade of nurses and doctors who came in and out of his room was one of the most depressing, demoralizing, and dehumanizing experiences of his life.

They treated his disease rather than treating him as a person with a disease, often talking in front of him as if he were a dumb animal who couldn’t understand or wouldn’t mind what they were saying. Although they were assigned to his care, they acted as if they didn’t care. Their behavior was outright toxic.

I can understand why medical practitioners keep an emotional distance from human suffering as a form of self-protection. And I understand how confronting difficult and demanding patients as well as pain, disease, and death on a daily basis can form calluses around one’s heart. But when professional distance translates to disrespect, it’s a form of malpractice.

The job of medical professionals is not simply to cure disease but to care for the overall well-being of patients. They do their job best when they help patients get better and help them feel better.

What saved him, Dave said, wasn’t the pain-killing drugs but the attitude of a few nurses who uplifted his spirits by simple acts of human decency – a smile, a kind word, a compassionate expression or tone – that conveyed the message that they truly cared.

We have to love and admire those who can bring their hearts to their work, knowing that mental sunshine and flowers are powerful medicines.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 3

  1. I work at a community college in a nursing program and have come to realize over the years that “compassion & caring” cannot be taught because it comes from “within”.
    That is why it is so very important that a person enters the nursing profession for the “right” reasons.
    It may take a role-reversal hospitalization for the medical professionals mentioned in the article to fully understand the very difference of delivering care vs. caring with compassion.
    there is a REAL difference.

  2. Kari is right — a personal experience with a hospitalization can be transformative. Unfortunately, the minute a hospital worker (at any level) knows you’re a doctor, nurse, whatever, their relationship with you changes because they know you’re a peer.
    Sadly, I have actually worked at (planned on it going in and thought about it while I was a patient) being on MY best behavior as a patient. I know that I will generally be treated with more compassion and courtesy if I am courteous to begin with. In addition, I do all I can to care for myself (so that I’m seen as less of a burden when I do need help, like for a dressing change), and I ask staff, “How can I help?” when they are providing my care. In part, it’s because I was raised to be polite and helpful; but in part, it’s because I want to avoid being labeled a “troublesome” patient. The consequences of that are too high. In a world where so many working people seem to be overworked at the mercy of “the system,” I guess we’ll see both the best and worst of ourselves more frequently. Knowing the impact of regulation, insurance, etc., on health care, I have such respect for excellence in knowledge and patient care from doctors, nurses, and other health professionals!

  3. In 2005 I got very ill with Coccidioidomycosis. Our car had been in an accident and I was sent to a hospital far away from my daughter, my sister, and her son, my nephew. I was so weak even a phone call would exhaust me. My students wrote me letters but they were not being delivered. When my family doctor heard about it he made the half hour detour to pick it up the letters and one hour trip to deliver them. At the hospital I was feeling like the man in the story but that random act of kindness made me feel I had a much larger family.

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