How A Patient Became An Equal Partner With Her Doctors By Taking Responsibility For Her Body.

After my 83-year-old mother had breast cancer removed, I accompanied her to the specialist for a post-op check-up. The surgeon was a lovely and compassionate man, and he had a junior registrar and a nurse with him.

I waited with my father on the other side of the curtain whilst they attended her. Her upper clothing was removed and she was examined. We could readily hear their conversation.

When the surgeon finished he quite briskly said “Ok let me help you with that” (her clothing). It felt like they wanted to move on quickly to the next patient.

She said “ Do you mind if I do it myself because I need to be able to do it at home.” She did it and the surgeon said “Of course, you can do it, and you must.”

It was amazing to hear my Mum empower herself by speaking up like that. I could also feel how the surgeon and his entourage felt it too. In their desire to be efficient and save time to get on to the next thing, they were not offering her the space to support herself and how honouring it was to allow her to at least make the attempt. It didn’t really take any longer, either.

I work in the health system myself and have seen how easy it can be to go into autopilot to ‘do’ or ‘fix’ for the patient/client without truly connecting to them and allowing them to at least try for themselves.  The aim of this is to get things done quickly, but this creates a dependency that we then grow to resent as it actually makes more work in the long run and leaves patients/clients totally dependent.

We, in fact, set ourselves up.

For me hearing my Mums sureness about how she wished to drive her care was a beautiful surprise and I felt it was a great gift she was giving herself.

Over the years she has had many operations and in earlier ones had often given her power away completely to the medical profession with the catch cry “they know best”, which was not necessarily always the case.

We had many discussions over those years about the fact that she knows her body better than anyone and whilst it is important to listen to and work with what is discussed by the doctors and nurses, it is equally important to remember that she is an equal partner in this medical equation and to listen to her body and to trust that as well.

Since then, she had a couple of further hospitalisations and went from strength to strength in her ability to listen to her body and express what she needed whilst also listening to the advice of the doctors and nurses. She had a newfound strength to do everything possible to support herself, conscientiously doing the appropriate exercises and using a walker sensibly after a hip dislocation. Consequently, her recovery was swift.

Needless to say, the nurses and the doctors loved her because rather than becoming dependent, she was proactive in her care, saying so if she felt something wasn’t right. She appreciated all the support and care she was offered and took the steps to truly support herself as well.

My Mum was an awesome inspiration, and I loved observing her strengthening connection with herself.

It felt to me the surgeon was gently reminded of something that day, of dignity, honouring and trusting. He was a beautiful man who was obviously well versed in these things with his patients, but this was a little prompt which he graciously noticed and acknowledged. As a care provider, I have also experienced these prompts.

I love it when we get reminders about allowing our patients the space to do things for themselves. The space to make their own choices without us trying to fix things, hurry them along, or negate their experiences by over-riding them in our often task-oriented focus on our work.

These reminders are a gift. They keep us real, connected and humble.

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