‘What I am told I forget…… by the Renal Team

…what I am shown, I remember.

              …what I do, I understand.’

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Confucius was credited with many words of wisdom in his 72-years.  I couldn’t vouch for the authenticity of them all – but if he did utter these words he was indeed a man before his time.

The truth behind these words was apparent to me at our recent Kidney Care Planning Education day. The Kidney Care Planning Service has undergone a bit of a re-incarnation in the last couple of years. Formerly known as the Pre-dialysis service, it is simply the care of patients with an eGFR of less than 20mls/min, as they are more likely to progress to end stage kidney failure and need to plan for such an eventuality. However, the term ‘pre-dialysis’ implies that these people are all heading towards dialysis – when in fact many will choose an alternative path. The younger fitter patients should be hoping to get a pre-emptive kidney transplant from a relative or friend, while some of our elderly, frailer patients may well not benefit from dialysis at all and will survive just as long on conservative (nondialytic) care. So when Tanya Harkness took up the mantle of lead Nurse for the pre-dialysis service, she quite rightly felt a new name was required. Many renal units use the term Low Clearance Clinics, but a straw poll of non-renal staff suggested this was more reminiscent of a rehabilitation clinic for inattentive bus drivers… So, after much discussion amongst the renal team, the more accurately named Kidney Care Planning (KCP) service was born.

The aim of the service remains unchanged and while we do take bloods and treat symptoms, easily 80% of what we do is talk. More specifically we provide as much Renal 2information as we can to help every person decide which treatment option is going to suit them best. We do this with clinic visits and home visits. We provide information leaflets, website addresses and even YouTube videos – all with the aim of imparting information. Yet still we are sometimes asked a question that blindsides us – that either leaves us thinking ‘How did you not know that from all the conversations we have had?’  or ‘Crikey- that’s a good question that I have no idea how to answer!’ Because at the end of the day none of us handing out this information have ever experienced what they are going through – the actual treatments, the fear and anxiety, the dread of what their lives will become or the understandable desire to block it all out and pretend it’s not happening.

Which brings me back to Confucius! The subject of teaching is vast, with as many different approaches as there are pizza toppings. Yet 500 years BC, Confucius nailed it with this simple truth – when we actually do something, we come to understand it. So who better to teach our patients, than other patients who have been in the same boat.

We have held education days in the past, usually in a hotel function room with talks given by members of staff. Tanya was keen to resurrect the concept, but made it quite clear from the outset that there was ‘No way on God’s earth’ I think was the phrase that she was ‘EVER’ standing up in front of a room full of people to give a power point presentation. (Why not, I have no idea as I am sure she would be excellent….but there we are!)

So a new format was devised between the whole community team – a less formal approach, like an open day, where patients could turn up and wander at will from room to room – talk to the team leads, watch demonstrations, see the equipment and most importantly meet other patients.

The date was chosen to coincide with a visit from Ewen Maclean, Kidney Care UK Patient Support and Advocacy Office, Scotland. Ewen, himself a renal patient, is a mine of information about the support available to kidney patients, grants and how to apply for them and the political landscape that shapes kidney care in the UK.

We no longer had need of a hotel function suite – if there is one thing we are not short of at Mountainhall it’s space! (And the parking is pretty easy too – sorry!!) So, we sent a personal invitation to all our KCP patients, laid on refreshments and opened up the old pre-assessment unit for the day.

Renal 3The Renal Community Team (Left to right): Fiona Gardiner (Renal Dietitian), Robert McLemon (Transplant) Ian Mottram (Haemodialysis – both home and in-centre), Wendy Brown (Peritoneal Dialysis) Margaret McDonald (Clinic Health Care Assistant & Phlebotomist), Linda Stiff (Vascular Access), & Tanya Harkness (Kidney care planning).

Renal 4As well as written information everyone had something practical for patients who attended and the responses we had were truly illuminating. Ian had a haemodialysis machine with all the lines and bucket of dialysis fluid set up and received the comment ‘Oh, I didn’t realise it would be so small-I assumed it’d be really big.’ And why not –historically dialysis machines took up a whole room, which must be a really intimidating thought if you are going to be hooked up to one- but it has NEVER occurred to me to comment on the size of a dialysis machine in my many dialysis related conversations.

Renal 5Robert had asked 3 transplant patients, with more than 50-years of experience between them to attend. I am not sure if any of them showed their scars where the transplant was placed but they had experienced all the ups and downs of transplantation and immunosuppressants so there was no glossing over the bad bits.

Renal 6Linda was showing patients how to feel  their fistula and what to listen for – explaining how the noise it makes can change if a stenosis is forming – and she was able to give those with a fistula their own stethoscope to involve them in their own fistula care.

Renal 7Our renal dietitian was also on hand to give practical advice on managing fluid balance, as well as providing visual aids on potassium, phosphate and salt restrictions-something that renal patients universally struggle with!

Renal 8One of the biggest successes of the day came from Wendy who had persuaded one of her Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) patients & their families to come and chat so they finally actually knew what the PD catheter looked like when it was inserted and could see for themselves how an exchange worked. But more importantly they could ask someone having the treatment what it felt like, how it impacted on their lives, whether it interfered with their sleep, whether it actually helped! One of our patients who had been set on coming to the hospital for haemodialysis when his time comes, has now changed his mind. We have been sure for many reasons that he would be best suited to PD, but fear was driving his decision. One hour watching a gentleman of his own age performing an exchange and listening to his stories of how life continues almost as normal around PD, has achieved what 5-years of reassurance from us could not…

The feedback Tanya received was overwhelmingly positive, but patients are generally nice, so it is the more subtle signs that have persuaded us this is the right approach. The questions and comments patients have since made in clinic prove that they have valued and retained some of the information they learnt that day. One patient commented how reassuring it was to see dialysis patients who looked well and still lived a normal life. And I hope through this some of the fear for the future has abated.

I expect in the future we will still be blindsided by hitherto unasked questions, but it is not only the patients who are learning, as I finish with yet another Confucius quote:

‘He who knows all the answers, has not been asked all the questions!’

We would like to express our sincere gratitude for all the patients and families who came that day, especially for those who came to share their experiences with patients in the early stages of their kidney care planning journey. We are also grateful for the patients who gave their consent for us to take photographs and use them in this blog.  We hope to make “Kidney Care Planning Education day” an annual event from now on.

 

Other useful renal websites:

Patient focussed resources:

Kidney Patients UK / The National Kidney Federation, the largest kidney patient charity in the UK, run by kidney patients for kidney patients, website provides lots of useful information.

Kidney Care UK – formerly the British kidney patient association, very helpful brochures available online.

Think Kidneys – NHS England’s campaign to raise awareness of the importance of kidney disease. Lots of useful resources can be accessed with just a few clicks from this page.

Clinician focussed resources:

Renal Fellow Network – A USA based website with worldwide contributions distilling vast amounts of renal knowledge into bitesized articles, a great resource to start learning about renal medicine.

UKidney – online education on Nephrology, hypertension and kidney transplant.

#NephJC is a fortnightly Twitter-based Nephrology Journal club with visual abstracts, free access to the articles provided by major journals and regularly includes participation by the authors and other worldwide experts in the field.

 

This blog was written by Dr Alison Almond, Associate Specialist in Nephrology, with contribution from rest of the Renal Team, NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

 

A Yellow Wood by Gill Stanyard

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The 1st June 2018 was my  last day as a  Non-Executive Director for NHS Dumfries and Galloway.  After four years of a potential eight year appointment from Scottish Government, I decided to  leave. I felt I had reached a good and fulfilling end and to stay on for another four year term would have been signing up to endure.  I made a decision I wanted to enjoy. So, I felt happy with my decision to end my time, made when swimming in a shimmering blue sea one early morning, whilst in Greece.

I made a decision. ‘Decision.’ The Latin origin of this word  literally means, “to cut off.” Making a decision is about “cutting off” choices – cutting you off from some other course of action. Now that may sound a little severe and limiting, it’s not. It is liberating. Decisions, they take us onto the next stepping stone, sometimes called  ‘The End’  – two words which tell us a story is over.

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My friend made the final and shocking decision to end his life at the weekend. A fact I am still struggling to comprehend. Our last communication was a fortnight ago, with me texting him about all the different gins (24 to be exact) that were on the menu at my leaving ‘do.’  He texted me back with a  joke about Rhubarb gin. Then nothing. I didn’t think too much of it, life gets in the way. And then I received ‘The News.’  Yet I have forgotten a couple of times since then, and have gone to text him. Then, with a strange physical ‘flipflop’ stomach feeling,  I have remembered ‘The End,’ which is accompanied by much hurt and sorrow and  strangely, lines from one of my favourite poem’s. – ‘ The Road Not Taken.’ by Robert Frost:

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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 A single decision can transform a life. I always assumed Frost wrote this poem about himself, yet I recently read Hollis’s  biography of Welsh poet Edward Thomas, and discovered that Frost and Thomas were ‘besties.’  Frost had written the lines as a joke about Thomas’s depression induced indecision, which showed up on their long ‘walk and talk’ days together, with Thomas never being able to decide whether to take the path on the right or the left. When Frost sent the poem to Thomas, Thomas initially failed to realize that the poem was (mockingly) about him. Instead, he believed it was a serious reflection on the need for decisive action. At the age of 36, after much wrestling, Thomas felt compelled to enlist as a soldier in the Great War.

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He wrote of his decision to his friend Robert Frost  “Last week I had screwed myself up to the point of believing I should come out to America & lecture if anyone wanted me to. But I have altered my mind. I am going to enlist on Wednesday if the doctor will pass me.”  On the first day of the battle at Arras, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, Thomas was killed by a shell blast.  His poem ‘Adlestrop’ was published in the New Statesman three weeks after his death and has since become a classical favourite of British poetry.

 

Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

 

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop — only the name

 

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

 

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire

Life sometimes makes decisions for us. I don’t mean to get all Dead Poet’s Society here, yet I think T.S Eliot had something when he wrote “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” (Four Quarters) We get ill and have to take time to rest and get well, and sometimes we don’t always recover, we have accidents,  we don’t get chosen for that job or by that person and we lose people and animals we love and care for.

Where possible, make a decision and choose your ending and make a new beginning, whether it be the end of an unhappy relationship and the start of a happier one with yourself,  saying No to working for extra hours, when you could be saying Yes to spending more time with your family, or your dog or your garden, standing up to a bully and choosing to start being assertive and courageous, speaking out against something which you see is wrong and thus ending corruption or collusion, stopping trying to do everything by yourself and start asking for help -(getting a mentor through NES really helped me with this)  and putting a stop to being taken for granted and drawing new boundaries that put your needs first.

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I have taken a Non-Executive decision to be more accountable to myself in my life, to spend more time outside, to stop watching tv and read more poetry,  to save up to live in a place where I can have two donkeys, chickens and  another rescue dog and to track down some Rhubarb gin.

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Sorry if I did not see you to say Goodbye. I wish you well in your decision making and hope that your sigh is a happy and fulfilled one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dementia Awareness by Julie Garton

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Dementia Awareness Week runs this year from 4 – 10 June. There are lots of events across the region supported by a wide range of individuals and organisations. This year, I’ll be promoting the use of a document called ‘This Is Me’ within acute hospitals and asking Dementia Champions and other colleagues across NHS Dumfries & Galloway settings to join in.

When someone with dementia comes into hospital, a care home or is receiving care at home, they and their family/friends may be asked if they have a ‘This is Me’ document.

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What Is ‘This Is Me’?

‘This Is Me’ is intended for use by anybody with dementia, delirium or other communication impairment.

It aims to provide important personal information about the person from their perspective and those who know them best (family/caregiver) to help enhance the care and support given when the person is in an unfamiliar environment.  It’s crucial that we understand the person as an individual and take their personal history into account, helping us to communicate and engage with the person, which in turn can help us to prevent/alleviate stress and distress.

What are the benefits of ‘This Is Me’?

For the person, their families/caregiversif the person with dementia has memory and/or communication problems, then a ‘This Is Me’ guides and supports staff to provide care in a way that respects the person’s choices, preferences and routines. ‘This Is Me’ can be a great opportunity to ask and find out information, that as family members we may not know – provoking good memories and conversation. In addition, a ‘This Is Me’ or similar may reassure people with dementia and their caregivers that we see behind the dementia and respect that person.

For stafffor professionals, it can help us deliver person centred care, and importantly, reduce the times we ask for the same information – the detective work has already been done.

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Where can ‘This Is Me’ be used?

‘This Is Me’ can be used anywhere, in hospital, care homes, in primary care, respite care and is offered during Post Diagnostic Support.

When should it be completed?

‘This is Me’ always offered during Post Diagnostic Support but can be completed at any time.

Are there issues around confidentiality/sharing this document?

The document is the property of the person and/or their main care giver – it is not a clinical document and does not belong to any professional or service, the person/care giver decides what information is included and shared.

Once completed, the document should be kept in a place that is easily accessible for those providing care, for example, at the bedside, in a care plan. The information can help staff understand the persons’ baseline abilities, lifestyle, routines, likes/dislikes and gives great opportunities for conversation and engaging with the person.

What happens to the form if/when the person is discharged or transferred?

As it belongs to the person, it should go with them on discharge/transfer, and it’s also useful to check with the person and /or their main carer that the information remains up to date and relevant.

Living Well with Dementia

It’s important to understand that many people are able to live well with dementia, leading active and fulfilling lives for years after they first experience difficulties and receive a diagnosis, but coming into hospital can be daunting for all of us, and for people with dementia , this can be a frightening experience.

Whilst these days, a person with dementia may only be in hospital for a short time, how we communicate and support them will have an influence on the impact of the whole care experience and how quickly they can return home. We know that older people with dementia are more likely to be discharged to a care home than older people without dementia, have longer hospital stays and experience more falls and pressure ulcers.

We know that in Scotland around 93,000 people are living with dementia and we think around 25% of all acute hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia (Alzheimer’s Research UK, 2018), yet mostly, people arrive into our services without a document such as This is Me even if they have one at home.

“This is Me gives me golden information about an individual. The nuggets of information are priceless in helping to smooth the way to getting to know the person behind the dementia”

Gillian, Staff Nurse

‘This Is Me’ is just one of a range of tools that can support centred care, Getting to Know Me, Life Story work and a wide range of personal profile tools are available, many online, helping professionals to see the person, not just the patient.

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I ‘m keen to hear about your experience/s of using This Is Me in your workplace – please contact me or, if  you would like more information about This is Me or would like a copy, please contact me at jgarton@nhs.net or 01387 246981.

Julie Garton, Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant

What Matters by Ken Donaldson & Alastair McAlpine

I recognise that it is a bit cheeky of me to put my name to this as I haven’t written any of it. A few months back I was scrolling through Twitter and came upon this thread that really moved me. The messages are simple yet immensely powerful. I have therefore simply taken some screenshots from Twitter and published them here. As you can see this is by a Doctor called Alastair McAlpine who is a Palliative Paediatrician in Cape Town, South Africa. Read on…..

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Cathy’s Journey by Amy Conley

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Friday night, admissions unit is where we first met Cathy……

I say met; we heard her before we met her – Cathy was shouting out, incoherent, clearly agitated. In her room, we found a tiny lady lost in a huge nightie, scrunched up on the bed, clinging onto the bedrail.  Cathy was 95, frightened and distressed.

Cathy had been transferred from another hospital, for assessment of pain.  It was impossible to know if Cathy was in pain or not – she couldn’t tell us.

We looked at her notes…

With a diagnosis of dementia and arthritis, Cathy had been living fairly independently with carer support, hadn’t been in hospital for some years.

A few weeks before, carers worried that Cathy may have fallen, an ambulance was called.  Cathy went to ED – no broken bones, but concern that Cathy couldn’t mobilise safely resulted in admission.

Over the next 6 weeks, Cathy was moved seven times between three different hospitals, from community to acute and back; staff worried about pain, falls and possible injuries, worried they were missing something, worried that more tests were needed…

Over this time, staff reported increasing difficulty with Cathy’s behaviours and confusion; she was distressed, agitated and uncooperative. Other patients were frightened.  Staff felt unable to manage.  Cathy was prescribed sedation.

Cathy by now was very confused, unable to communicate what she needed, not eating, not drinking.  She had become incontinent.

Back to Friday night…….

The sight of Cathy was heart-breaking; crying out, unable to tell us why, unable to understand what we were doing. She was dehydrated, in pain and encumbered by various medical contraptions.

We talked to Cathy’s family.  We decided that Cathy didn’t need any more interventions or hospital moves.  We did our best and made her comfortable.

Cathy died six days later…

 

Cathy, like many people admitted to hospital, was frail; she was frail before she came to hospital that first time.

If we had recognised her frailty at the hospital’s front door and intervened, well, perhaps Cathy’s story might have been different – different conversations, different interventions, different decisions and different plans made.

We talk a lot about frailty but it’s not always easy to explain or to understand.  Frailty is one of those words that get bandied about but what do we mean when we call someone frail?

The dictionary definition is “the condition of being weak and delicate”, something we all feel at times, but not really helpful in identifying frailty in our patients.

Within medicine, after years of vagueness and uncertainty, we have defined frailty as “the reduced ability to withstand illness without loss of function”.

 So……

A minor illness or injury, that would be no more than troublesome to you or I, affects a frail person more profoundly, leaving them struggling to walk, to wash or to dress, to eat or to communicate.

In reality though, how do we recognise the frail patient?  Does it matter?  Does it make any difference?

Age alone does not make people frail – people don’t become frail simply because they live too long.  Frailty doesn’t come with a diagnostic test, but there are signs we can look for – older people, with cognitive problems, mobility problems or functional problems, people on many medications or who live in care homes.  People who present to us with falls, incontinence or confusion.

“Frailty is everyone’s business”

The population is getting older and frailer, particularly here in Dumfries and Galloway.

Older, frail people have higher demands on health and social care services and more unplanned hospital admissions.  Once admitted, frail people are more susceptible to hospital-acquired infections, delirium, nutritional problems, falls and skincare issues.

In comparison to other patients, frail elderly patients are more likely to have prolonged hospital stays, to lose their mobility and functional abilities; they are more likely to be admitted to residential care, more likely to die.

I am a geriatrician.  I’m not at the glamorous end of medicine and I don’t have a bag full of fancy equipment, tests and treatments.  But within our medical specialty, we do have one intervention that has been shown to improve outcomes for the frail elderly –Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment

CGA means that frail older people are much more likely to be well and living at home 12 months after admission, and much less likely to be admitted to care homes or to die within those twelve months.

CGA is a multidisciplinary assessment of a patient and their physical, psychological and functional needs.  It allows us to develop a personalised, holistic and integrated plan for that patient’s care, now and in the future.  We think about how patients walk, talk, eat, drink, see, hear, think, remember, socialise, mobilise, and take their medications.  We think about how we can make all of those things better and easier for frail elderly people and their carers and families.

We all need to understand and recognise frailty.  Think about it, see it and talk about it, and allow a person’s frailty to influence decisions for their care and future.

Over 18 months we are working collaboratively with other health boards and Health Improvement Scotland to improve recognition of frailty at the front door.

Hopefully, if we get it right we can influence a better outcome, one that recognises and considers the specialist needs of our frail elderly people, one that supports them to continue to live happily and safely in a place that they can call home…

 

“We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it…”

Frank A. Clark, American Politician 1860-1936

 

If you have an interest in frailty and want more information or to become involved in our project please contact   amy.conley@nhs.net or lorna.carr2@nhs.net

Amy Conley is a Consultant in Geriatric Medicine at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary.

 

 

 

 

Love Wins by Euan McLeod

Euan M 1Having returned to clinical practice after a number of years away from the NHS (not saying what number) but nonetheless a significant period I attended the corporate inductions week to prepare me for my role in the organisation.

I had thought that much would have changed but although there were a lot of things different it seemed to me that the very essence of what we did as nurses, and indeed as anyone, employed in the NHS had not changed significantly in that we were all part of an organisation there to provide help and support to those in their time of need,

One thing that had developed was the formation of a set of values. The NHS Dumfries and Galloway CORE values

You may recall that the workshop to develop the CORE values was in response to the publication of the Francis enquiry into the Mid Staffs hospital, and that the aim like most health boards up and down the country was to try and create something that would help deliver higher standards of care and stop situations like Mid Staffs happening again.

What was it that went wrong? Did they not love (care/respect) the people they were looking after? Did nobody love their work enough to want to do things well? Were peoples regard for each other such that they became indifferent to their needs?

Love may apply to various kinds of regard towards other people or objects, and this aspect seemed to reflect what had happened at Mid Staffs, a lack of respect or due regard for the people entrusted to their care.

Love – it’s not a word we use often in healthcare but perhaps it’s central and underpins a lot of the other words or values we use to describe how we should be or act in the pursuit of caring for others.  In that sense I wanted to think about that word LOVE and what it might mean in the context of our main activity as deliverers of healthcare.

The title sat in my notes and in my mind for some weeks, I read the board paper on the development of the CORE values and wondered if it might mention love anywhere. Lots of care, compassion, empathy respect, dignity, etc in the body of the document, and hey right at the back in the summary of responses on positive experiences / feelings, there it was the word LOVE-maybe only 1 person had mentioned it but there it was.

Now all this talk of love may be getting some of you kinda twitched as if this was all some soppy, half baked romantic drivel, the kinda thing that people don’t talk openly about, but think just for a moment about how often you might use the word in the context of things, objects and places and not people

What do you mean when you say oh I just love going on holiday to France, Spain, The Bahamas etc or I just love Jaguar cars, or some designer shoes or handbags.

If someone asked you if you loved your job what would you say-Do you love making a difference to people’s lives?

I don’t think anyone would say no to that

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I looked up the Francis report and here’s what it said was the MAIN message

The Francis report is a powerful reminder that we need a renewed focus on hearing and understanding what patients are saying Ruth Thorlby, Senior Fellow, Nuffield Trust

From <https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/the-francis-public-inquiry-report-a-response>

Hearing and understanding what patients say -no problem there then easy and straightforward

The importance of that hearing and understanding aspect was highlighted in the recently published kings fund report

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-11/Embedding-culture-QI-Kings-Fund-November-2017.pdf

“Finally, participants noted that a focus on improving patient outcomes and experience was a way to further engage staff in improvement activities:

You have to build that coalition of people who want to make a difference and who want to change and at the centre of it all keep the focus absolutely on patients and never have a conversation that doesn’t involve a patient, because if you do you’re in the wrong place because that’s the only currency, the language, that staff understand. (NHS provider chief executive)”

How can we firstly HEAR what patients say and secondly how can we UNDERSTAND what they are telling us.

Into my in box comes an email from Gaping Void- Everbody’s a patient because evervbody’s a person

Here’s a link if you want to check further https://www.gapingvoid.com/

Gaping void exist to develop the use of culture and art in healthcare settings and the topic that caught my eye was entitled “Everybody’s a patient because everybody’s a person”

There are two underlying truths in patient care:

All patients are, foremost, humans, and one day, we will all be patients.

When designing healthcare experiences, from waiting rooms to waiting times, we have to remember that we’re building for humans — people in pain, people grieving, and people suffering who need to feel loved.

We have to create the experiences that we, as patients, would want to go through. Because, one day, we will.

From <http://mailchi.mp/gapingvoid/we-are-all-patients>

If we are able to love people we care for and hold them in a position of high regard then we will be able to hear what they say and perhaps understand, in turn Love may win over the tensions, frustrations and myriad difficulties that are part of delivering health care  and we can be part of creating experiences that are for  people knowing that perhaps one day we may be the patient

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Euan McLeod is a Mental Health Staff Nurse for NHS Dumfries and Galloway

The man With The Tea Trolley by Alison Wren

image1Hello! My name is Alison! I work as a Clinical Psychologist in the Clinical Health Psychology Service; the final member of the team to blog this month as part of our service promotion! Part of my role within this job is to help individuals and their families manage psychological distress caused by or maintained by physical health problems. Of course as a psychologist I do this at a professional level, but do we always need to be a psychologist to provide psychological care to those who need it?

 
This is the story of a man with a tea trolley; an ordinary chap who made a big difference to me at a particular moment in my life when the chips were down. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. We only met once and we don’t keep in touch. He probably doesn’t even remember me. He didn’t need to do what he did; it definitely wasn’t in his job remit and he probably bent the hospital rules.

The story starts on a Saturday afternoon several years ago when my husband unfortunately had a heart attack and was admitted to our local coronary care unit. It all came as a bit of a shock as he had none of the typical risk factors. He wasn’t overweight; he didn’t have high cholesterol, and had never smoked. He drank sensibly and walked miles every week. The event itself was fairly low key; just a burning sensation from throat to stomach followed later by an aching jaw. Symptoms so low key that he still image2went off to a football match that afternoon as planned. Twelve hours later after a trip to A&E (“just to be on the safe side”) our worst fears were confirmed. I’m happy to say that after a successful angioplasty he made a great recovery, but at the time we both pretty devastated. I was beside myself with worry. My stomach churned and my thoughts raced out of control “Was he going to die?”, “Would he have another?”

“Would he be able to stay active?”, “Would he still be able to work?”

image3I felt overwhelmed. How would I help my husband to cope if I was struggling myself? I had no one to talk to and could not voice my fears to my husband who needed me to be strong. As a Clinical Psychologist with many years experience working with people who have experienced distressing life events, I knew that my thoughts and feelings were normal but I was at a loss as to how to help myself.

The coronary unit that my husband was admitted to was located in another region in the UK and has now closed. My husband received excellent medical care, but as a worried spouse I felt alone. Nurses and doctors were busy. Visiting hours were limited (I was not permitted to stay longer than an hour). I wanted to be near my husband and to feel that others understood that we were in this together. I wanted reassurance. I wanted information. I wanted someone to ask me if I was alright. I felt that I needed looking after too.

One afternoon with all this weighing heavily on my mind, the man with the tea trolley came into my life. I had seen him before on and off during my visits serving hot drinks and biscuits to the patients. He was always cheerful and took the time to have a chat with people. He bustled passed me as I sat in the visitor’s room. I guess he must have noticed my forlorn expression through the window, because he doubled back and came into the room. What he did next was a small act of kindness that changed my day, and helped me feel a little better.

image4He simply smiled, gave me a cup of tea and said, “It’s hard isn’t it? How are you doing?”

We chatted for a short while about this and that, and he listened to me as I told him what had happened. Of course he couldn’t answer my medical questions, or give me any assurances about the future. He couldn’t really do anything as such, but he was there for me at the right moment and he seemed to understand. He knew I needed a friendly ear. I never saw him again, so I didn’t get chance to thank him. So whoever you are, thank you! That cup of tea made all the difference.

image5Dr Alison Wren is a Clinical Psychologist for the Clinical Health Psychology Team at NHS Dumfries and Galloway