An Occasional Visitor to Dumfries & My ‘Scottish Heritage’ by Tarik Elhadd

(This article was written in Dumfries in August 2015)

I have always been fascinated by the Trust Weekly Blog and stemming out from my connection with Dumfries, I thought of posting this reflection, hopefully it will be deemed suitable for publication.

I first came to Dumfries in spring of 2011 several months after departure from my home country, Sudan. My re-traffic to Sudan in 2009, trying to re-uproot, make a living and help my own people, was very much dashed by several factors. Making a living there was second to impossible. Back in 2007/2008 I had an offer to join a thriving health service in the area beyond the far western Canadian prairies, in British Columbia, which encompassed both academic and service domains. Coming to Dumfries was the perfect choice as the job was still vacant. I went to British Columbia a few months earlier in a fact finding mission. Part of the Canadian recruitment process entails inviting prospective candidates and their families to come and see themselves, and then make an ‘informed decision’. Following a week in ‘Prince George’ in fall 2010 we got satisfied and decided to go for it, despite that it is in the ‘end of the world’, being 13 hours flight from UK. But for us, the Sudanese, it was ‘Safe Haven’. The prospect of working and living in the ‘New World’ proved exciting. I had just turned fifty by then, and the career prospect was still rife. I began the process of joining Prince George University Hospital of North British Columbia, but to fill the 9 month gap whilst this took place I came to Dumfries to take up a locum in Diabetes and Endocrinology. One place, one hospital and then off you go to Canada. That was the dream which proved to be elusive.

At Dumfries life was very smooth. I was embraced by everybody, from within the department and from without, as one of the team. I never felt, nor was given, the feeling of being the ‘bloody locum’, who is here to do little for ‘too much money’ and then vanishing away. I was always treated with dignity and respect and always given the feeling of being ‘one of the team’. Everyone expressed love and showed gratitude to the job I was doing. This culture you won’t see or feel in other places as a locum. At Dumfries your expertise and hard work would be appreciated and valued and, despite that I was well paid for the hours I was doing, I was never eyed as a locum and stranger by anyone save one or two people.  Weeks and months and the path to relocate to British Columbia became fraught with obstacle after obstacle. It proved to be a ‘bumpy road’, and my stay at Dumfries continued, not only for nine months but it went to one and half a years.

I left Dumfries in August 2012 pursuing the elusive Canadian dream only to come back again in December 2013 when change of heart and change of fortunes forced yet a move into the opposite direction, this time eastward. The Canadian dream been burned on the altar of destiny. I was heading towards the Arabian Gulf, another safe haven for us, the beleaguered Sudanese. I was again embraced by Dumfries with the same old love, dignity and respect. Despite that my second ‘tenure’ at Dumfries was in Acute Medicine but it was equally enjoyable and blissful. Again I was never been given the feeling of the ‘other’, or the ‘stranger’. Not only that, after over ten months, I left to Qatar with an open mandate to come back at any time if ‘things did not suit me!!! Is that not wonderful and special to be given the feeling of ‘being wanted’ and in demand? Needless to say I was even approached to consider a permanent position and a substantive post.

Back to UK after spending a full working year in Qatar, and having the demand of keeping my license and my GMC registration alive and staying close to my grownups, who were staying in Cheshire, who had all re-trafficked back to UK after completing their University education in Sudan. I was welcomed back to Dumfries. It was the same old fantastic feeling. As a trainee back in the mid and late 1990s, I began my training in diabetes in Edinburgh at the old Royal Infirmary near Edinburgh Castle & the Royal Mile, and returned to Scotland again as an MRC Research Fellow at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Not to miss out the two years spell I had in Ayrshire when the educational needs of my youngest son made a re-traffic to UK in 2007 a necessity. So out of over 20 years of my career I spend in UK, one third was in Scotland. I am proud to call it my ‘Scottish Heritage’. One third of this heritage belongs to Dumfries-shire.

Dr Tarik Elhadd is a Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology

The Pneumonia in Bed 5 by Sian Finlay

Although it is sometimes easy to forget it amongst the busyness of front line clinical duties, I am a person.  I suspect many of you are too.  Occasionally I am unwell, but I consistently find that I still remain a person during this period – I have never yet become a disease!  So why is it that when patients come into our care, we so often default to calling them by their diagnosis instead of their name?  Go onto any ward and I guarantee it will not be long before you hear someone described as ‘The Chest Pain’ or ‘The Pneumonia’.  Many handovers will include phrases such as ‘He’s a UTI’.

No, he isn’t! He’s a PERSON who has a UTI!

A common (and potentially even worse) variant of this is the ‘bed number’ name, exemplified by ‘Bed 3 needs the commode!’  Sometimes attempts are made to justify this practice with the excuse that it protects confidentiality, but let’s be honest here.  The truth is that it simply demands more mental effort to remember the patient’s name and we are taking a short cut.  All very understandable in a busy environment, and I really don’t blame anyone.  You might think it is just semantics anyway – what does it matter if we call someone ‘The GI bleeder’?  Well I argue that it does matter.   More than you think.  These patients are people, no less complex and emotional and fragile than you or me.  By depersonalising them, we are subtly starting down a path which allows us to forget this; which allows us to view them as tasks in our day rather than the individuals they are.  If you are unconvinced, try this little exercise; read these 2 sentences and see if they elicit the same emotional response in you:

Bed 5 is agitated.

Tommy is agitated.

Would you agree that the second sentence immediately makes us feel more empathy and compassion towards its subject?

Many people will be aware of the late Kate Granger, the inspirational doctor who responded to her diagnosis of terminal cancer by establishing the ‘Hello, my name is..’ campaign.  Sadly Kate died last year, but her campaign lives on and has touched many of us in the healthcare profession.  But Kate’s work didn’t begin and end with wearing a smiley badge with our name on it; it is in essence about remembering the humanity of our patients and treating them as fellow human beings.  And I can only imagine Kate’s fiery reaction if she ever overheard herself being referred to as ‘Bed 5’!!

But we are all under pressure.  What if we genuinely can’t remember the patient’s name and are just trying to communicate information quickly?  Surely that doesn’t make us uncaring?  Of course it doesn’t, but in times of acute amnesia, we could at least say ‘the man with pneumonia’ rather than ‘the pneumonia’.  And that should only be a holding measure until we can remember his actual name – surely essential for safe communication anyway!

I hope I have convinced you that words do matter.  The phrases we use set the whole tone for the level of kindness and empathy we expect in our clinical areas.  So if any of this resonates with you, I hope you will lead by example.  Look at your patients and remember they have hopes and fears and histories and personalities…and almost always names!!

Sian Finlay (aka ‘The Migraine on ward 7’) Acute Physician and Clinical Director for Medicine at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

 

 

Surviving and Thriving in a Time of Change by Dawn Allan

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

Can I make a difference? by Paul Gray

It’s a big question – can I make a difference?  How does it feel to ask yourself that?  For some of us, the answer will be different on different days.  My experience suggests that your answer depends much less on what you do, than it does on how you feel.  In this blog, I’d like to offer some thoughts on making a difference.

However, some context first.  I fully recognise the challenges we face.  Health budgets are going up – but pressures on recruitment, and the demands of an aging population, are also very real.  There is also still much to do in tackling inequalities, and improving the health of the population, which NHS Scotland can’t do on its own.  And we do know that people have the best outcomes when they are treated and cared for at home, or in a homely setting.  So our current models of care are transforming to meet these demands, and to provide the most appropriate care and treatment for people, when they need it, and change brings its own challenges.

So my first suggestion is to turn the question, “Can I make a difference?” into a statement – I can make a difference.  If you start from that standpoint, you’re much more likely to succeed.  It’s easy to become pre-occupied with the things we can’t change, and the barriers and problems – I know that I fall into that trap from time to time.  But wherever I go, I see people throughout the NHS, and in our partner organisations, making a difference every day.  So ask yourself, what is the one thing I can do today that would make a difference?  And then do it!

paul-1Now, give yourself some credit – think of an example where you did something that was appreciated.  Write it down and remember it.  If you’re having a team meeting, take time to share examples of things that the team did, that were appreciated by others.  Sharing these examples will give you a bank of ideas about simple things that matter to other people.  And it also gives you something to fall back on, if times are tough.

Next – think of an example when someone did something for you, which you appreciated.  Find a way to share these examples too – if it worked for you, it might work for someone else as well.  Ask yourself when you last thanked someone for something they did well, or something you appreciated.  It’s easier to go on making a difference if others notice what you’re doing!

If you’re leading or managing a team, ask yourself how much time the team spends discussing what went well.  It’s essential to be open and transparent about problems and adverse events, but if that’s the whole focus of team discussions, we overlook a huge pool of learning, resources and ideas from all the positive actions and outcomes.  And we risk an atmosphere where making a difference is only about fixing problems, rather than about improvement.  So, as yourself and your team, what proportion of time should be spent on what went well?

Remember to ask “What Matters to You?”.  I know that the focus of this question is on patients, and that’s right because they are our priority, but it’s a good question to ask our colleagues and our teams as well.  Just asking the question makes a difference – it gives you access to someone else’s thoughts and perspectives, and is likely to lead to better outcomes.

paul-2Will any of this change the world?  Not on its own, of course.  But you could change one person’s world, by a simple act of kindness, or listening, or a word of thanks.  You can make difference!

Paul Gray is the Chief Executive Officer for NHS Scotland and the Director General for Health and Social Care at the Scottish Government

Honest Reflections by Barbara Tamburrini

As this is now the third blog I have written for DGHealth, either there is a shortage of ‘willing volunteers’ or others have found better ways to say “maybe, possibly, perhaps soon” to Ken Donaldson when his charming request drops in the email ‘in-box’. Whatever the reason, I find myself agreeing to contribute and construct another brief moment of interest in our increasingly busy days. Having written previously about handover processes and the importance of good communication, I thought I would flip this on its head for this blog and consider the ‘inward’ communication reaching our ears from eager and sometimes over-active media sources and outlets.

A scan of headlines published over recent times don’t make happy reading for hard-working and dedicated NHS employees trying their best to simply ‘stay afloat and fight the fire’. Over the last 4 days, a number of reports sum up the general gist of current NHS news:

  • 9th Feb 17 – “Worst A&E waits ever, leak suggests” – BBC News
  • 8th Feb 17 – “The NHS and its crisis: Myths and realities” – Sky News
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Scotland’s A&E departments miss key waiting time targets over festive period” – Daily Record
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Maternity services in Scotland ‘beginning to buckle’” – BBC News
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Ageing UK midwife workforce on ‘cliff edge’, warns RCM” – Nursing Times
  • 7th Feb 17 – “NHS [Scotland] cancels 7740 operations due to lack of resources” – STV News
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Scotland patients waited more than a year for hospital discharge” – Sky News
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Revealed: The hidden waiting list scandal for Scotland’s NHS” – Sunday Post
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Growing waiting times threat to NHS” – BBC News

The recent coverage by the BBC assessing the state of the NHS across the UK in their NHS Health Check Week raised issues including a perception of desperate times inside A&E departments, analysis of patient flow reducing to a halt and “clogging up” hospital wards and frontline services being radically changed in attempts to overhaul health provision in the wake of the publication of NHS England’s five-year plan for the NHS in 2014. Indeed, as recently as 15th January 2017, chair of the BMA, Dr Peter Bennie was quoted as stating the Scottish NHS was “stretched to pretty much breaking point” and “heading for a breakdown” unless the government acknowledge the disparity between the current comprehensive service provision and existing funding levels.

So what does all this mean for humble workers ‘at the coal face’ and patients who so desperately rely on the NHS and our contribution within it? Dr Bennie wisely points out that honesty is required when assessing all elements of our much loved but potentially deeply troubled NHS. Honest reflection on our actions and behaviours as NHS staff is required to ensure we are all maintaining a focus firmly centred on our patients and clients. In a profession which is becoming more and more challenging with morale which seems to be ebbing lower and lower, can I really state with certainty that my focus is always upon my patients?

If I am looking at my last shift on duty, as part of the DGRI capacity team, I know that the greatest majority of my time was spent considering patient care but, the complexities of the work involved in capacity management mean a constant ‘juggle struggle’ between complicated discharges, patients keenly attending for their long-awaited surgery and fast and furious emergency admission rates with significant staff shortages thrown in to make life really interesting. This is a really difficult environment to function effectively, positively and proactively.

Its exceptionally difficult to have to say “I’m really sorry but I don’t have anyone who can give you a hand at the moment” to hard-working and struggling colleagues whom you respect and want to help. This inevitably influences work-focus and morale, sometimes away from patients and onto less fruitful, less important areas – we’re only human after all! I’m sure many of you reading this blog can identify with this and acknowledge that there can be times when we recognise that our concentration has slipped away from the real reason we are all here. This honest reflection is being actively encouraged in nursing through the revalidation process which will positively impact the profession in the future with a similar process in place for medical staff.

Honesty is also required from patients and clients using NHS services with individual ownership of health and the impact of lifestyle choices upon this of fundamental importance. The vast majority of NHS patients freely and actively claim this responsibility but this is not always the case in some crucial clinical areas like Emergency Departments. For the headlines to stop, the public also need to do their part. In a recent article in Glasgow’s ‘Evening Times’ (9th January 2017), it was stated that around 1 in 6 Scottish ED attendances may be unnecessary at a potential cost of £33 million and whilst ministers have provided responses aimed at removing any punitive element and reassuring the public that they are right to be concerned about their health, this concern needs to be correctly channelled for current pressures on health services to be eased. Patients with 3-month history of injuries, minor ailments which could be assessed elsewhere and those telling us they didn’t bother trying their GP as “they wouldn’t get an appointment anyway” are all too frequent presentations in busy ED’s. In my ‘other role’ as an ANP in ED, every time a patient told me this, I called the surgery myself and was given an appointment that day for their patient so, as well as accepting ownership of their own health, patients and service-users also need to be well-informed, confident and comfortable about the health services they access and when they utilise these valuable resources.

My feeling is that an organisational honesty also exits within current healthcare with ‘the powers that be’ having a responsibility to consistently and carefully examine the healthcare delivered with rectitude and reliability. We are somewhat fortunate in that we have an organisation who actively engages with staff through measures such as #ontheground, weekly core briefings, active and lively facebook and twitter accounts and the informative and interesting DG Change website (http://www.dg-change.org.uk). Indeed, this weekly blog also serves as a useful interactive communication with reflections and comments on posts actively encouraged. But is this enough? I would argue that even though these proactive measures exist in NHSDG along with many other approaches, staff morale remains low in some clinical areas and sickness absence rates are running well above optimum levels in some departments. So, are the current measures of engagement between the organisation and its employees inaccessible, uninteresting or unimportant to some staff, not effective enough, not addressing the correct issues or simply not delivering the desired impact? Although impossible to answer within this blog, the significance of this question and the consequences associated with it, must remain high on the agenda if staff empowerment, engagement, motivation and morale are to be maximised as we hurtle head-long towards a new hospital and evolving chapter in our healthcare provision.

Every ward I go in to during my capacity shift has AHP’s, nursing and medical staff who look tired, strained and burdened by an ever-increasing workload with constant financial and resource pressures making the job all the more difficult. But, and this is crucial, staff continue to come to work to do the best job they can given these constraints. They continue to change rota’s to cover absences, work through breaks and past finishing times to help their colleagues and patients and they continue to ‘fight the fire’ with dedication, sometimes in the face of adversity. Healthcare staff MUST care about the service they provide, to deliver care which remains meaningful, appropriate, safe, effective and patient-centred.

Whilst we as staff have a responsibility to continually reflect on our own practice, this must be fully supported, actively encouraged and consistently underpinned by honest reflection at a strategic level on the current ‘state-of-affairs’ and how this can be promoted and enhanced within the existing inflexibility of financial austerity.

Therefore, returning to our news headlines, what does the future hold for the NHS locally and nationally? Locally, despite considerable challenges, there are exciting times ahead as we look to fully embed health and social care integration and also move our main hospital services into our new build. Nationally, the picture is less clear with ever-increasing financial pressures being placed on continually growing workloads in a society with greater demands in terms of health due to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases. This is compounded by an ageing population sometimes presenting with chronic conditions which one simply did not survive from a decade or two ago.

hould we as NHS employees, the general public, healthcare service providers and users be concerned about the growing tide of negative headlines? Perhaps. Maybe these give an insight into the ‘health of our NHS’ – gosh, that’s a worrying thought. Or maybe, we now live in an environment feeding off news negativity and scandal in which we have all become de-sensitised to minor challenges therefore pushing media providers to ‘raise-the-bar’ in their reactionary reporting of our beloved NHS which would have, until relatively recently, been ‘off-limits’ to the eager reporter looking for a scoop however vague, misleading or sensational.

Lets return to our honesty theme. Within this blog, I have suggested that some honesty is required in our NHS and this should also extend to the reporting of challenges and issues to a certain extent. The antonym to sensationalism, where bad, critical or damming NHS news is forbidden with offenders punished by a stint taking minutes for certain western hemisphere parliamentary press conferences, is also not good for contemporary healthcare since this stifles and prevents honest reflection from which, lessons can be learned and development thrives.

There is every likelihood that the headlines wont go away and they may even increase in frequency or adversity. Perhaps though, if we all contribute in our own way, positive, honest and transparent analysis at individual, peer, organisational and national level will drive, develop and sustain an NHS we are all proud of and which we want to protect, however difficult or complex the discussions and decisions.

Barbara Tamburrini is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

 

 

Reflections on Imperfections (In memory of Dr Johan Leuvennink, my friend) by Fanus Dreyer

While writing I am listening to Dozi, a troubadour who sings in Afrikaans and Zulu.

On Monday I attended the memorial service for my close friend, Johan Leuvennink, consultant psychiatrist, who died so suddenly. For the last two weeks I have been thinking about the paths we’re on and why these are so imperfect…

In December 2012 I had a knee replacement, necessary due to damage from playing rugby, jumping from aeroplanes and boulder hopping in canyons and on the Cape coast. It was 14 weeks before I could go back to work and where else would a knee recover more quickly than in the heat and dust of Africa. So we went to Zambia for teaching critical care and then to South Africa to visit family. As David Ball and Pete Armstrong returned from Lusaka to Dumfries I went south, with a stopover in Johannesburg. At O.R.Tambo’s Ocean Basket I ate Cape kingklip and calamari, with a glass of Durbanville chardonnay. My waiter was Pioneer, who recognised me from a visit the previous year, when about 10 of us descended on them for a meal. He asked me in detail what I did and so on, and then said “You have the greatest job. Not only are you able to save people’s lives, but you actually teach others to do the same“. I was humbled by Pioneer’s insight and very thankful for his words at a time when I didn’t feel like going back to work.

Pioneer’s words led to some serious thinking. Why then was I dreading to go back to my NHS job after only 3 months off? Well, I always feel that way after experiencing something of the heart and soul of Africa, but this time it was worse. Some things happened around the three weeks we spent in Zambia and South Africa. I received emails about critical incidents in patient care that I could not have influenced, but I was still asked to comment. On the first day back home I was phoned about students who had complained and I was asked to respond, even though I had not met these students. Somehow there is this perception that, if we just complain enough and change systems constantly, we will one day reach perfection. NO, it ain’t gonna happen!

In Tanzania in 2009 our guide, Cyprian, described the caricatures of all the different nations that he had taken on safari. We laughed at how he described Afrikaners, Germans, French and Japanese clients. He said that the British were those who would say “thank you very much, it was the most amazing trip of my life”, but on the feedback form they will always write one thing that should be better or different. Make no mistake, I always take complaints or concerns of those who “suffer under surgeons” very seriously, but simple moaning leaves me cold. I have just bought a car and, although it is great to have a new toy, it is not perfect for my requirements. My job is not perfect, nor is anything else in my life. So what! I’m happily cruising along through this life and can only stand and stare at the miracles it brings every day, again and again. We meet people who have suffered unimaginable losses and with severe disability and sorrow, and they continue to inspire me. I think Africa accepts life’s imperfections more easily. That is why Rwanda could move on and why South Africa had a peaceful transition. You also see that in the total lack of self-consciousness in the girl with a long scar on her face, in the man wearing a woman’s blouse and in the patient with the large goitre or fungating cancer. So my job is not perfect but Pioneer is not far off, it has perfect opportunity, and for that I am forever grateful.

…I had known Johan since he was my student in Tygerberg Hospital. He stood out because he asked challenging questions. And then we met again in Dumfries and shared some good times together, usually in serious discussion. We walked a difficult road together. I still cannot believe that he is gone and the question that remains in my head is “What price do we pay for the work we do?” I know that surgeons have a high rate of untimely deaths, and am sure the same goes for psychiatrists.

fanus-1This took me back to thinking about the National Geographic picture of Dr Zbigniew Religa and his patient, taken after he did the first heart transplant in Poland in 1987, which took 23 hours. In the picture Dr Religa sits and observes his patient’s vital signs, absolutely drained but still alert for anything that could go wrong, while an exhausted assistant sleeps in the corner. Twenty five years later the patient, Tadeusz Zytkiewicz, holds the same iconic photograph of “giving everything”, but Dr Religa, his surgeon, had died in 2007. The patient had outlived the surgeon.fanus-2

…Three years ago I asked Johan if he could teach me to play the piano. I have no talent and no ear for music but wanted to learn to play one song. He took on this challenge with his usual enthusiasm. After months of patience from him and practice by me I was able to play the right hand of this one special song, and this is still all I can play…

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you…

I think that at the end there is only one question to answer and that is “Did you love enough?” I have no doubt that Johan could say “Yes, I did”….

Maybe perfection really lies in what we give, not in what we achieve.

 

Fanus Dreyer 

Consultant Surgeon

NHS Dumfries & Galloway. 

I am human by Dawn Renfrew

“I am human: I think nothing human alien to me”

dawn-1-terence-the-african

Terence the African

So wrote Terence the African, around 2000 years ago. He was a slave from Roman Africa, a dramatist, and an interpreter. He was quoted recently in the annual BBC Radio 4 Reith lectures, by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law at New York University.

dawn-2-appiah-now

Appiah Now

Professor Appiah’s subject, “Mistaken Identities”, is one of the most defining issues of our age. We all have multiple identities which describe who we are. These include those suggested by our gender, age, occupation, political affiliation, nationality, race etc. The possibilities are endless when you think about it: parent, child, sibling, friend, Bake-off fan, or Queen of the South fan are just a few.

In a healthcare setting, we also have many identities, including being part of our own discipline, team, ward or service. Sometimes we are ourselves patients, and some of us are managers. Any health condition, whether physical or mental, can become part of our identity.

Appiah himself embodies many complex aspects of identity. Half-British, half-Ghanaian, he was brought up in Ghana and England, and has now adopted America as his homeland. He is the grandson of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps. He is a crime novelist, and a fan of Japanese haiku. In addition, he was one of the first people to take advantage of the new gay marriage laws in New York State. He is probably ideally placed to set about unpicking assumptions which we all have about the “labels” associated with identity.

dawn-3-growing-up-in-england

Growing up in England

Appiah discusses 4 aspects of identity over 4 lectures: creed [religion], country [nationality], colour [race] and culture [Western identity vs non-Western]. These are delivered in 4 different locations: London, Glasgow, Accra [capital of Ghana] and New York. The lectures cover the great sweep of history, and examples from a range of countries across the globe. They argue that identities are more complex and fluid, than are commonly supposed. They are more a “narrative”, than an “essence”, and do not necessarily determine who we are. Everywhere you look, you can find exceptions in identities, which challenge our commonly-held assumptions about them.

dawn-4-growing-up-in-africa

Growing up in Ghana

Identity is important for our survival. It helps give meaning to our lives, and helps us feel, and be, part of a community. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that it has been critical to our development as a species. All identities are constructed and evolve over time, but as soon as you construct an identity, you create potentially not only an “us” [those within the group], but also an “other” [those outside it]. When there is competition for resources, things can turn nasty, and the “others” may be persecuted or scapegoated. So it is important that we are relaxed and open about our identities, and that we recognise why that process of “othering” arises so easily within all of us. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into, and we need to resist it.

Appiah doesn’t mention healthcare in particular. But if we apply these ideas to the healthcare setting, we can see that a shared identity can help us pull together to meet our patient’s needs, in what are often increasingly challenging circumstances. Equally, there can be a process of “othering” which operates, whether it is towards our patients, our managers, our employees, or other agencies. Whilst understandable, “othering” can prevent us fully engaging with the “other” in a way that leads to the best outcome for all of us. This is relevant to our aims to provide person-centred care, and to integration with other agencies.

On the question of nationhood, Appiah isn’t against nationalism, so long as it is an “open, civic nationalism”. His favourite idea of nationhood, however, involves 2 concepts. The first is patriotism, defined as concern with the honour of your country [or countries]. This means feeling proud when your country does something good, and ashamed when it does something bad. The second concept is cosmopolitanism, which means being a citizen of the world. These can combine to form a “patriotic cosmopolitanism”. You can, and should, respect both “the local” and “the global”.

Identities connect the small scale, where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin [and healthcare colleagues], with larger movements, causes and concerns. Our lives must make sense at the largest of scales as well as at the smallest. We live in an era where our actions, both ideological and technological, have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity itself is not too broad a horizon. We live with 7 billion other humans, on a small, warming planet. The concept of cosmopolitanism has become a necessity.

dawn-5-appiah-with-obama

Appiah with Obama

Appiah argues for a tolerant, pluralistic, and diverse society. He says, failure to accept this is not just a failure to understand human identity, it is not in our collective self-interest. We do not need to abandon identities, but we don’t need to be divided by them either. Ultimately, the identity of “being human” ought to transcend all others.

As Scout, the young heroine in the novel about race and mental illness, To Kill a Mocking Bird, concludes: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks”.

The Reith lectures are available to listen to on the Radio 4 website, indefinitely.

Dr Dawn Renfrew is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for NHS Dumfries and Galloway