‘Rays of Humanity’ by Ewan Kelly

‘The glimpses, the rays of humanity that I received in the hardest of times ….kept me going.’

 Life working in the health service, whatever our role in clinics, wards, offices, corridors and health centres is far from easy in the twenty-first century – sometimes its downright challenging, even hellish.  So what keeps us going back for more each day? (apart from the need to pay the mortgage and feed our families!) A question I’ve often considered not just personally, but as a healthcare chaplain with colleagues I’ve supported over the years. More than that, I am now in a strategic role which involves promotion of wellbeing for staff as well as patients and carers across NHS Scotland.

There are lots of aspects of our lives and our work which may help keep us motivated and feeling fulfilled in our roles in the health service. What are they? What gets you up in the morning to go to work even when things are tough?

As a young greenhorn healthcare chaplain in my late twenties during my first month working in a large acute hospital in Glasgow, I was invited by an occupational therapist and a physio to come for a coffee to meet some of the folks they were working with who were adjusting to lower limb amputation. In the rehab gym I joined a bunch of ten or twelve folks who had paused from their physio for a coffee and a blether.  The idea behind the invitation was that I might provide some support during a period of loss, transition and adjustment in patients’ lives. Everyone who had gathered for coffee was invited to introduce themselves as the biscuit tin went round.  ‘Hello, I said, ‘I’m Ewan, I’m one of the chaplains who works in the hospital. I’m here to…’ Before I could say any more a wee fella in a wheel chair interjected, ‘Is that like a minister or a priest son…..do you do services on a Sunday. I’m not really intae that guff.’  ‘ Well yes, ‘ I replied, ‘ that’s part of what I do but most of my job is to be around and listen to people as they make adjustments and deal with changes in their lives.’  But my new acquaintance  was persistent. ‘Ach yon religious stuff causes more problems that its worth all that Proddie and Catholic stuff. Look at the trouble in Belfast.’  ‘Well’,  I retorted rather pompously ‘ the short services we have here on a Sunday morning are for everyone who wants to come….it doesn’t matter which fit ye kick with.’ ‘Oh aye,’ said my conversation partner with a twinkle in his eye looking down at where his two legs should have been, ’that’s no much guid to me is it now son!’

Ewan KI wished the ground could have opened up there and then and swallowed me up. However, everyone else, including my double above knee amputee friend, was roaring and laughing. I was  bright red with embarrassment   but the ice was broken. I was no longer a rookie chaplain, a minster or a priest, I was human …..like everyone else. Numerous coffees and conversations, as well as fun,  followed in subsequent months in the  rehab gym

The courage, the humour, the banter, the human interaction even when life is tough  and a struggle ….observing  that, sharing in that, remembering that  and being inspired by that is one of the reasons I get up on a cold January morning to go to  work in the health service.

Michael  Wilson, a psychiatrist and healthcare chaplain,  in the early ‘70s wrote a book called  ‘Hospital  – a place of truth.’  His basic premise was that hospitals or healthcare is a place where we learn not just how to care but how to be human. Patients, carers and our colleagues can be our teachers and they are often a source of inspiration and motivation.

However, what is it that that patients and carers receive in return from us as members of staff who share our humanity as well as our professional expertise and technical proficiency in our daily work? 

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in the Scottish Conference of Cancer Support Groups at the Beardmore Conference centre in Clydebank.  I was exploring with the volunteers from cancer support groups from all over Scotland  what  the motivating factors were which prompted them to help others living with cancer.  One woman spoke up in the gathering of over a hundred  people.

’ The medical and surgical care I received during my cancer journey could not have been better. It was fantastic but it was the glimpses, the rays of humanity that I received in the hardest of times that kept me going. That is why I have volunteered to help support others.’

Patient experience (human interaction) as well as clinical effectivess and safety together impact on the personal outcomes of patients.  (Doyle et al 2013) http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/1/e001570.abstract

And …..meaningful human interaction as healthcare staff enhances our  wellbeing too.

Ewan Kelly is a former Medical Doctor and is now Programme Director for Healthcare Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care at NHS Education for Scotland

7 thoughts on “‘Rays of Humanity’ by Ewan Kelly

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