I have always been fascinated by human beings and why we are the way we are.
Does our cultural and family background influence us?
Why do some people believe in God and some don’t?
Why are some people able to talk about death and dying so easily?
Why do people focus on their weaknesses, what about their strengths?
How self aware are we?
Who are we when nobody is looking?
Having emigrated from Ayrshire to South Africa where I spent my childhood and early adult years, I discovered the down side of the school playground because I sounded different. There were only so many times a 6 year old with an Ayrshire accent wanted to mandatory repeat the word ‘potato’ at the class bullies insistence, and then suffer his disparaging comments,
“…doesn’t she sound weird…say it [potato] again…oh, ja, you’re from ’SCOT-LAND’ hey…”!?!
I remember stifling back tears, wishing I sounded like my peers so he would leave me alone. When I reflect on this childhood bullying memory, it is mainly laughable now and I quickly adapted by adopting a local accent to blend in. Life nurtured resilience and I learned when it might be safe to confront a bully wisely, when to ignore them and when to ask for help.
This year I relocated from Shetland to live and work in a place, “Often described as “Scotland in Miniature,” South West Scotland’s Dumfries & Galloway region is characterised by its rich cultural heritage, stunning scenery, sweeping seascapes, towering cliffs, rolling agricultural land, and its wide, wild landscapes”. Who wouldn’t want to live here?!? So, what about the people? I am pleased to say they too are fascinating, warm and welcoming.
The 2017 focus for NHS Dumfries & Galloway is the move for many staff from the current DGRI to the new hospital. From what I am gathering, this process of change is daunting for some. If communication is key to all that we offer and provide as health care professionals, part of the way we manage our expectations in preparing to move is to be aware of how we communicate with or about each other as individuals, departments and teams. Having a person-centred approach should be our modus operandi – our behaviour and communication does not go un-noticed by patients and visitors. Being a ‘relational person’, I believe our hospitality is as valuable as our clinical / social care, our administration skills or our financial targets.
If a holistic approach cares for the whole person, this includes acknowledging someone’s pain, providing them with pain relief and offering them a cup of tea – all spiritual ‘acts’. We all deliver spiritual care, what I aim to define is that we as staff do not, ‘go Greek’ i.e. compartmentalise and separate a person into ‘bits’, i.e. age, gender, status, patient, service-user, client, spiritual, religious, physical, mental, psychological, emotional…When in physical pain, the whole of our being is affected. Judeo-Christian views that –
- every person is born with worth and dignity
- every person has the ability to choose between doing good and doing wrong
- every person has the responsibility to help others in need and the community
Whether the person we are caring for or working alongside has a belief / faith or not, they will have a ‘value system’. I hope having a VBRP – Values Based Reflective Practice – approach will help all of us as we reflect and hopefully learn from the past in the present, to know how to continue or change best practice, including our communication. Our motives are based on values we apply every day which will help or harm the people we care for, including ourselves.
To be a hopeful presence is how I sometimes describe my encounters with people. When we are at our most fragile and vulnerable, we need others we can trust, who will listen with their eyes and ears, who can make us laugh, encourage us when we feel stressed, sick or lonely and offer compassion. My confidential support includes staff – we are all at different stages in our professional roles and our personal lives. Before anyone ever declares whether they have a belief / faith or not, it is what we have in common as human beings that is paramount. Difference is a given, but negative overemphasis on difference marginalises people – companionship and inclusion build bridges. Sometimes, ‘life happens’ and it is the sudden, unexpected occurrences that affect our health and relationships most.
One of my favourite authors C S Lewis reminds me that a man of such academic, creative gravitas was honestly transparent, he said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner’s description speaks into my role, “When you cannot fix what is broken, you can help very profoundly by sitting down and helping someone cry. A person who is suffering does not want explanation: the person wants consolation. Not reasons, but reassurance.”
If we as individuals think we do not need each other, we are deluding ourselves. My faith informs my professional practice, without imposing it on anyone. If the Son of God relied on twelve disciples, who am I to say I can survive without the support and wise counsel of colleagues? We are only human and we need each other to ensure NHS Dumfries & Galloway not only survives but thrives today and tomorrow.
Dawn Allan is Spiritual Care Lead Chaplain at NHS Dumfries and Galloway