Palliative Care conference
A while ago I was able to attend the 25th annual palliative care conference in Winnipeg.
During this 2 day event the common threat was compassion. Compassion is something that palliative care workers all have. Without compassion palliative care does not mean anything.
The beginning of compassion: not feeling better, but feeling worse.
There is always something you can do to help someone feel better. It does often not have to be a big thing. A kind word, or a smile, a hand on your shoulder, these are all things that show compassion. Doing a little extra, without being asked, and without expecting anything in return is a sign of compassion.
Compassion is does not always feel nice, it can feel like your heart is breaking, because of what you see and hear. It can bring you to tears and make you feel powerless. Often you can’t change anything about the situation the other person is in, like palliative patients, but you can always be that comforting hand, or that shoulder to lean on.
A hug without words can give more comfort than any fancy words will often do. Sometimes it is hard to get involved, because being involved means getting close. The reality is, anyone who has done work like this will tell you that being involved and getting close will bring you much satisfaction afterwards. What you are able to share through compassion is so much more than anything else you might be able to do.
Making your career path out of helping people feel better is not always easy. Many times you will run into frustrating situations that may leave you not feeling compassionate at all. And then all of a sudden there is this one moment, this one word, or touch that makes it all worth it and will fill you with compassion. It will give you the strength to continue to be compassionate.
Compassion is like love
Compassion is like love, the more you give it, the more you will receive in return.
And like love, it can be messy and painful and break your heart. But it can also fill you with light and love and gratitude. This is what brings you satisfaction, and this is why people want to take career paths that involve helping others, like doctors and nurses. It takes compassion to give patient a positive experience and help them through their illness. Most of us can think of a situation we were in, that left us feeling stranded, and hurt, maybe even angry. And also most of us can think of situations we encountered that left us smiling and shining with gratitude, because of someone’s compassion towards us.
Being kind and considerate may inspire others to feel valued. And being compassionate towards others will create a connection that tells us we are all human beings and we are valued; opening the door that enables us to connect with the other person.
Compassion in health care
So what is going wrong in the health care these days? Or is something wrong? Maybe it is just my own perception that makes me feel that compassion in healthcare workers is grossly lacking? People wanting to help people; is how we all start out in the health care profession. I believe everyone starts out with being a compassionate person who empathizes with the other person’s situation. Compassion is something that can grow, but we have to work at it and cultivate it through being empathetic.
Demands of the job?
Then why do we see so little of it in the health care? Is it because of the demands of the job? I think partly this is true. I also think that nurses and doctors are not being very well supported in their work. And because most nursing personal are women, and women are notorious for doing and giving and not complaining, support for them is almost none existing.
Nursing and compassion
Nursing especially has become much more technical then when I first starting out as a nurse. We did back rubs, emphases was on making and keeping the patient comfortable. Now nursing is often doing tasks, like giving medications, starting an intravenous, and many more tasks that have all become very technical. Often not leaving much room to become familiar with the patient, let alone getting close.
To be compassionate
However this does not mean we cannot be compassionate, you just have to work harder at it. Showing your compassion can be easily done and it does not matter that you are doing a task to make a patient better. After all a patient is still a human being and not some kind of machine we pump medicine into. Simple acknowledging that the patient is a human being is showing compassion, a kind word, a smile and a touch all will help you stay connected with the person you are caring for. Speaking with the patient, not over the patient with your co-working, keeps you connected with the patient. It shows them you care, and will make them feel valued. Patients, who have a positive experience in a hospital, or care home, are much more satisfied and less likely to complain about things. And, maybe most importantly, I think they will get better sooner and thus will experience lesser complication during their stay.
Supporting health care workers
Now how can we make sure that health care workers are able to give compassion? And still do all the other things they have to do?
One of the things I can think of is to support each other. I can think of different places I worked where we had great support among each other. A monthly get together, a potluck during holiday season and many other things, often involving the significant other and the children.
What I have found lacking is support from higher up, a simple thank you, or a free cup of coffee at Mother’s Day, will go a long way in my opinion in making staff feel valued and appreciated. There are many things that can be done to support health care workers. What example can you give?
Let me know what you think.