I’ve managed to wrench myself from social media (although I cannot escape the clutches of Instagram) and this has freed up mental time during my daily walks. If I’m in a beautiful setting, I walk listening to nothing – only the rustle of the leaves and the chirping of the spring birds. If I’m relegated to strolling along an ugly urban area, podcasts keep me company.
White Coat, Black Art on CBC with Dr. Brian Goldman is in my podcast feed. I was thrilled last week to hear my friend and colleague Isabel Jordan interviewed for an episode about PTSD in hospital settings. She was clear and eloquent about the PTSD that has haunted her since her son’s PICU admission years ago. This episode covers a lot of important ground: the painful procedures inflicted on patients; the lack of pain management techniques used by hospital staff; the need for mental health support for all family members who bear witness to traumatic hospital situations; and the associated lack of public mental health services in Canada. Isabel is especially poignant in her description of how her rare disease community has helped to heal her.
Life isn’t just about being patched up. It’s carrying on afterwards.
– Isabel Jordan
I truly believe some of the trauma that happens in the hospital could be avoided with a more empathetic attitude. I, too, have held down my young son with a disability while he was getting blood drawn. I wince at this memory, which surely has been etched deeply in his head. It does not have to be this way. Discovering EMLA, a numbing cream that I apply before his blood draw, was revolutionary to his experience. Another mom told me about numbing creams – not one health professional has mentioned it to me – ever – in the past 15 years. (Check out the fabulous It Doesn’t Have to Hurt website for tips on pain management for children). Clinicians, ask yourself: Does it always have to hurt?
Us adults experience pain and trauma in the hospital too. I have written about my experiences with health care on this blog and in a recent guest editorial with the Journal of Family Nursing. The Affronts to My Human Body essay outlines my accumulations of scars throughout the years and during my recent treatment for breast cancer.
I know many hospital procedures are painful and this is sometimes unavoidable. But I wonder how much pain is avoidable with a more compassionate approach. The podcast Everything Happens’ last episode called Can You Hear Me Now talks about empathy in health care. It offers a brilliant interview with Alan Alda and Kate Bowler. There’s too much good stuff here to quote. Just listen to the episode, especially if you work in health care.
Alan talks about connection, plain language and the curse of knowledge in medicine. If I didn’t have a crush on him when I was a teenager watching Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H episodes, I certainly do now.
At the end of the podcast, Alan turns the table and interviews Kate. He asks her why she wrote her book and why she does this podcast. She answers:
What is it like to live after you give up on some of your most deeply cherished lies, like everything is going to work out. Are there still true and beautiful things that we can still learn in the dark?
To me, this echoes Isabel’s sentiment about carrying on after the trauma and through the pain. Cheers to those who give voice to the stories that happen in the dark – through being brave enough to be interviewed, or by hosting podcasts or writing or just simply by being a listening presence and not turning away from the pain. I think both sharing and listening to stories helps us all, as Ram Dass says, to keep walking each other home. xo.