This is the twelfth and final entry of my in-depth interview with a patient after concluding her cancer treatment.
Many of you have followed along as I chronicled Elizabeth’s journey through eight weeks of chemotherapy. I’m very grateful to her for sharing her thoughts and feelings about her healthcare encounters. She is astute and articulate in a way that has helped me tell her story and provided some good learning opportunities for myself and the readers. I’m glad to report that she is recovering nicely and slowly gaining her strength. Today, she shares her thoughts in summary about the experience.
I’m so glad to be home and finally rounding the corner from the aftermath of the chemo. It’s given me time to reflect on a few things about the course of my healing.
You asked me what are some of the things I wish my care providers knew. Here are a few thoughts:
- See me as more than a sick person. This is not the whole me, but a snapshot, a fragment of who I am. Asking me about the real me helps to draw me out of my pain and back into my multi-dimensional self. For example, one nurse asked me, “What makes you enjoy writing so much?” Her question transported me out of my immediate situation and planted me back into a mindset that reminded me of what I would be going back to once this was all over. It’s important to engage patients in conversations about what they love—who you really are.
- Things are exaggerated when you’re not well. A slightly dismissive comment or gesture can be magnified when I’m feeling scared, sick, and vulnerable. The perfect helping professional is one who is interested and engaged with me and is kind, honest, and fully present. I can always tell when someone is not fully present and it makes me feel on edge. I’ve had too many caregivers make mistakes when they weren’t fully present.
- Ask me how much information I want about my care. Find out just how much information is helpful. Ask how I learn best and how I like to deal with my physical problems. I, personally, don’t want to know all the rare, but possible side effects. I just want to know the main points. Other people I know are very different and feel unsafe if they don’t know every detail. I’m not that person. Know which type of person I am.
- Humor is good medicine. Just hearing laughter around me was helpful. You can always tell when employees are happy. It makes all the difference in the world. Happy employees translate into excellent care. Period.
- Call me by my name because it shows me that you value me and respect me as an individual.
- Keep me informed about what is going on. Delays are inevitable; just tell me what to expect so I know how to deal with the wait.
Elizabeth has shared a wealth of insight with me over the past two months during her journey. Now that she has completed her chemotherapy, I asked what pearls she will take away from this experience. She summarized with,
I’ve spent a large portion of the past thirty years as a patient in multiple medical facilities. I can honestly say that 90 percent of my medical experience is positive with 5 percent annoying mistakes and the remaining 5 percent egregious. What I will take away from this last experience is that there are a lot of good people out there who put their hearts and souls into their work every day and I have benefited physically, emotionally, and spiritually from them. These individuals don’t have jobs; they have vocations, and I am blessed to have been in their care.
I think that says it all. So, on behalf of my sister Elizabeth and all of the patients who count on the compassion and competence of our healthcare workforce, thank you for all you do—every day.