I have always been in good health. I rarely went to see the doctor. In fact, the last (and only) time I’ve been in the hospital as a patient was to give birth to my children. However, all of that changed recently. I unexpectedly found myself as a patient with an acute life-threatening illness. It was during my time in the hospital that I came to the realisation that kindness has a wonderful healing power.
A few weeks after being discharged from the hospital, I decided to venture outside the house (daytime TV was driving me insane!). A nearby coffee shop seemed an ideal place to sit and ponder for a while. I started a conversation with a person sitting alone at a nearby table. We ended up talking about many things including the NHS. He told me that a renowned and very skilled professor at one of Edinburgh’s teaching hospitals had saved his life many years before. He said that the surgeon’s expertise and knowledge had successfully enabled him to carry on living an active life despite having had a complex heart operation.
I shared with him that I was recovering from a bout of pancreatitis and a gallbladder operation and told him that I echoed the sentiments he felt for his surgeon. I told him of the deep gratitude I felt towards all of the people involved in my care during my stay at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary.
There were indeed so many people to whom I felt gratitude. From the porter who took me to and from my room, to the doctors and nurses in diagnostics and theatre, to the cleaner who came to my room with a big smile every day, to the nurse who helped me to the toilet in the middle of the night and patiently waited outside the door to bring me back to the bed, to the lab team whom I never saw but diligently processed my blood samples just a few minutes after my arrival to the Emergency Department with a self-diagnosed “awful indigestion”. To the doctors that took care of me, listened to my concerns and patiently answered all my questions ( I had many..!) and also to the person that offered me a cup of tea every couple of hours.
There really is something about a smile, a name and eye contact.
Kindness is defined as “the things that people do for one another (both practically and emotionally) in response to moments of perceived need, when there is the option to do nothing”. 1
What I noticed the most as I lay in my hospital bed was the effect that kindness had on me. When the phlebotomist smiled at me, it was indeed only a scratch that I felt. Contrasting that with when I was unsure and afraid, that tiny needle felt a lot bigger and more painful. If my mind was worried and someone passed by and simply smiled, I felt better (despite the pain being excruciating!). When the people looking after me remembered my name and made eye contact with me, I felt hope.
I have counselled many patients before they went for an MRI and from a physician’s point of view, I knew what it entailed. However, lying there as a patient myself, I was not prepared for the feelings that I would have. It was a noisy, claustrophobic experience with a disembodied voice instructing me to “hold your breath” at various intervals. Again, what made the experience tolerable was the kindness that the MRI team showed me. They asked if I was comfortable before we started. They reassured me with a light touch on my shoulder that they would be right there if I needed any assistance.
We often overlook how simple acts of kindness can make a difference to us and to our patients. We tend to focus on our own areas of expertise and knowledge rather than on our human skills. I have learnt that being kind does make a difference. I like to think that being a patient has made me a nicer doctor.
“Acts of kindness are those moments in our everyday lives when we choose – in small-scale & fleeting ways – to draw our boundaries a little wider” 1
I value our NHS now more than ever. In my hour of need, the NHS saved me. Thank you to all the teams that work so tirelessly across the NHS Dumfries and Galloway every day and show kindness without appreciating what an amazing difference it can make.
Be kind, it really does make a difference.
Grecy Bell is a GP, Deputy Medical Director for Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership.
Public policy and infrastructure of Kindness in Scotland. Simon Anderson and Julie Brownlie. http://www.carnagieuktrust.org.uk
Hello my name is http://www.hellomynameis.org.uk