I first wrote this for Heart Of Nursing – an online resource for nurses. But then I realised with a few tweaks I could share it on here for the wider healthcare community, all of whom do an amazing job.
Note that throughout this piece I use the word ‘healthcare workers’ very broadly. It includes everyone from my world-class surgeons, wonderful paramedics, nurses and specialists to people like the wardies, food services and cleaning staff. Plus many more!
I’ll talk about communication further down and the fact that you don’t need a medical degree to just talk with a patient and have a positive impact on them.
Sometimes it was the cleaning staff who made my day because they actually took the time to say hello while emptying the bin in my room.
So here’s the article. Keep doing an amazing job xx
Dear Healthcare workers,
Hello! I’m Lisa and I’ve met so many of you over the years, in public and private healthcare settings around over the world. My first big stint was across three different Australian hospitals where I was an inpatient for just over a year.
Here’s what happened…
I was a fit and healthy 24 year-old working in corporate communications and advertising. I was at the airport one morning when I had a brain haemorrhage caused by Streptococcus-A.
All of my organs shut down and I was put in and induced coma for 3 weeks. I remained on life support for 2 months and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) plus MRSA and pneumonia only only complicated matters further.
My parents were told they might have to turn off my life suport but Mum always says I was pretts stubborn 🙂
Despite time in a hyperbolic therapy, my extremities turned gangrenous and had to be amputated. But in many ways I’m grateful that I only lost what I did because initially surgeons were talking about removing my arms and not just my fingertips.
My left leg, right toes and 9 fingertips were eventually amputated. I also had heart surgery twice and a total hip replacement.
I also acquired 3 pressure injuries in ICU during those first two months, including a stage 4 on my sacrum. The Australian National Standards were not around back then but these days I work with hospitals around pressure injury prevention education for staff and patients.
NB: I know this may be different in other countries but these days hospitals can be financialy penalised when patients acquire pressure injuries in hospital.
My brain injury, although invisible, is by far the most disabling part of all. Chronic fatigue and chronic pain (peripheral neuropathy) are my new normal. I’m also over 25% blind now and epileptic.
I’m an Ambassador for Synapse (The Brain Injury Association) and help support the great work they do raising awareness of acquired brain injury – currently affecting over 1.6 million
So that’s a brief version of my medical history and it might give you an idea of why I’ve met so many clinicians over the years.
I still go into hospital regularly for specialist appointments and every now and then I have to be admitted for more surgery or another procedure.
I’ve met and continue to meet some absolutely amazing men and women working in hospitals. I have nothing but the upmost respect and admiration for everyone in the healthcare system, at
Healthcare workers see me when I’m exhausted, at my most vulnerable, at my weakest and absolutely terrified. Some of my closest friends haven’t even seen me like
In my work with Standard 2 (Consumer Engagement), I’ve been asked variations of the question, “what makes a good clinician great?”
Obviously a high level of skill and proficiency are important when it comes to things like injections and administering my medication.
But there’s one simple thing that makes a good clinician great.
It starts with communication.
And not the clinical kind. There’ll be plenty of time for that. No doubt you’ll have to ask about my medication, my appetite and my bowel movements at some point throughout the day.
You know the drill 🙂
But until then I’m just craving ‘normal’ conversation!
I remember one nurse telling me about her weekend grocery shopping expedition – a story that would usually have put me to sleep. But at the time I absolutely loved hearing about something from the real world.
That particular nurse would often pop into my room and tell me little stories from her day, sometimes about her family or what she was watching on television. I always looked forward to her visits and often she didn’t take extra time out of her shift but just had these chats to me while she was dressing my wounds or taking care of other things for me.
In essence she helped to normalise a very clinical environment for me.
Last year I had a horrible procedure that was made bearable by a lovely nurse. She was planning her wedding and told me all about it during the procedure.
Once all of the important clinical matters were out of the way, we traded wedding stories and I didn’t notice as many of the uncomfortable side-effects.
You don’t need a medical degree to talk to me about your day.
It doesn’t take a PhD or a university degree for you to tell me a bit about yourself or ask me about my interests.
I don’t expect you to divulge too much personal information, only what you are comfortable with. I loved hearing about staff’s children and grandchildren and I know they love talking about them because their eyes absolutely light up!
NB: Once I came out of the coma they discovered I was a bit of a chatterbox (and when the medication didn’t put me to sleep) but I’m only speaking for myself so don’t assume every patient will want to talk as much as I do.
My brain is damaged not missing so I still loved engaging in stimulating conversations about any number of things.
I realise there isn’t always time to sit and have a long discussion about global affairs but the times that a nurse has taken that extra few seconds to have a brief chat (perhaps about an issue on the news that week), was such a relief to be acknowledged as a person with a life outside of hospital.
Patients know they’re more than a body in a bed and they’d like you to acknowledge that too.
Don’t forget that communication can also be non-verbal and very powerful. I spent a lot of time in infection control wards and realise there may also be other reasons that make it difficult to just hold a patients hand. Sometimes healthcare workers become like family because they have to help you through really tough times and I was always grateful for simple gestures like a hand on my shoulder while I cried my eyes out.
I remember one Mother’s Day when I bought the nurses on my ward a big bunch of flowers for helping me through a particularly horrible month.
Thanks again for the great work you are all doing!
P.S… I’d love you to join me over on Instagram and see what I’m up to these days (out of hospital)!