Sneak Preview from Bedside Lessons – Chapter 65. Please Take A Seat

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Family meetings are common in healthcare settings and are organised to convey a point of view or to try to bring together disparate points of view. These events may be the first chance that some of the key stakeholders, i.e. the family and the healthcare team, have to meet each other. First impressions, as within any first meeting, are important. As you can only meet for the first time once, you’d better do your best to make sure it goes well. To establish a trusting therapeutic relationship between the patient, their family and the healthcare team, rapport must be established quickly. Every encounter can count, but not everything can be planned for.
“Come in, please take a seat.” Oops not enough seats, I didn’t think there would be so many people joining us. “I’ll get some more chairs.”

“No doctor, it’s okay, we’re Islanders, we’re used to sitting on the floor.” He sat down on the floor in a cross-legged position and the rest of his family followed.
While dropping to the floor and re-arranging my legs into a well-versed pose, “I’m an Islander too, and I’m used to sitting on the floor too.” I was joined by my cross-legged team member. Eyes were in contact and were levelled, as were some of the power differentials. Serious issues were discussed in a different but more trusting fashion.

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I think therefore I am? – What Did You Do?

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Any medical history is incomplete if the social history is not assessed. An important part of the social history is occupational history. What line of work a person did can tell you a lot about them. What jobs they held and for how long can provide a clearer image of who the person is. It can indicate what level of education they have had. Also, it can provide clues as to how they have done financially. Where did they work, locally or overseas? How important was their job for them? What level of loss has occurred as they are no longer able to work? Is there any unfinished business? Is there anything that needs to be sorted out in relation to work? What has been important to them up until now? Was there a work-life balance or otherwise?

The above information gives you a better idea of the human being that is in front of you and their place in society and the world. What is the best way to communicate with them, and how can you discuss things in terms that they will be able to follow? Talking to an engineer is different to talking to a chef. Talking to someone who has devoted many years to home-schooling their children is different to the conversation you’d have with a truck driver. The conversations are aimed at finding clues about who the person actually is. What analogies would help improve understanding? What kind of language to use or what level of detail to share? What is important to them at this stage of their life? What do they still have to sort out? How can you best build rapport?

How can we connect with them? What do we need to know about them in order to take better care of them? What did they spend a big chunk of their adult life doing? Also what hobbies do they have and how passionate have they been in pursuing those activities. One human trying to get to know another human, trying to connect with them to help them out. Striving to make a connection.

Any medical history is incomplete if the social history is not assessed. An important part of the social history is occupational history. What line of work a person did can tell you a lot about them. What jobs they held and for how long can provide a clearer image of who the person is. It can indicate what level of education they have had. Also it can provide clues as to how they have done financially. Where did they work, locally or overseas? How important was their job for them. What level of loss has occurred as they are no longer able to work? Is there any unfinished business? Is there anything that needs to be sorted out in relation to work? What has been important to them up until now. Was there work-life balance or otherwise?

The above information gives you a better idea of the human being that is in front of you and their place in society and the world. What is the best way to communicate with them, how can you discuss things in terms that they will be able to follow. Talking to an engineer is different to talking to a chef. Talking to someone who has devoted many years to home-schooling their children is different to the conversation you’d have with a truck driver. The conversations are aimed at finding clues of who the person actually is. What analogies would help improve understanding. What kind of language or what level of detail to share? What is important to them at this stage of their life? What do they still have to sort out? How can you best build rapport?

How can we connect with them? What do we need to know about them in order to take better care of them? What did they spend a big chunk of their adult life doing? Also what hobbies do they have and how passionate have they been in pursuing those activities. One human trying to get to know another human, trying to connect with them to help them out. Striving to make a connection.

I think therefore I am? – The journey begins

The largest health and disability system reforms for a generation will start in Aotearoa New Zealand (ANZ) starting in July of this year. One of the major changes is the creation of an independent Māori Health Authority. Its important task is to address the health inequities and disparities which lead to Māori people dying seven years earlier than other residents of ANZ. It has taken us 182 years to reach this sorrowful state and a real change of mindset is required if anything is to change at all. It can feel almost too big. What can I do to make things better? What difference can I make as an individual when the system has been designed to continue producing the same results? Nothing changes if nothing changes.

During a visit to one of the local marae/meeting place years ago my hospice staff were asked, “What do you have at your hospice that would make Māori feel welcome?” We struggled to answer the question. “Well here is your wero/challenge. How can you make us feel more welcome? Show us some evidence, don’t just talk.”

Thus began our journey of discovery, we needed to be educated. Bi-cultural competency training was arranged for all staff members throughout all levels of our organisation. For both clinical and non-clinical staff. We learnt about the adverse effects of colonisation, and the poison of institutional racism. We are encouraging each other to use more Te Reo Māori words in day to day hospice life. Bilingual signage has been placed as we seek a more open cultural direction.

We are singing Māori waiata/songs together every Wednesday morning. Today we were graced by a special impromptu guest. One of our tangata whenua/Māori inpatients walked into the room where we were singing. She had a big smile on her face as she joined her voice with ours. It was a privilege to be able to sing alongside her for those few minutes.

We have only just begun our journey of discovery but it is making a difference already. Another tangata whenua patient we cared for recently told me, “I started laughing as soon as I walked in. The wairua/spirit of your place felt good. I feel comfortable here. I trust you guys.”

It’s a small step in the right direction. Are you going to join us on the hīkoi/walk?

Guest Post – Naomi’s Notes – Waiting for an Invitation

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Two things are certain in this life,  we are born and we will one day die.   The time of death is uncertain, and in our life between these two we try and be of benefit to our families, community, country and the world at large.

We are all part of the same human family; we are all interconnected.  This has been highlighted  over the past two years with the pandemic.  News bulletins brought us graphic images of family and friends mourning because they were not able to be with their loved ones before death and for the funeral.  Harrowing images of countries being in lockdown showed us so many people dying daily and corpses being loaded into trucks heading to the cemetery for mass graves.   

For a while the world went quiet as we all felt the sorrow of people who were unknown to us, as well as the fear of what lay ahead.  We each dealt with it differently according to our cultural background and conditional on whether we are able to face our own mortality.

Fear is a feeling that comes usually because we don’t know about the issue that is confronting us, we have no experience with it, and we can’t predict what is going to happen.  We don’t know what to do.  Losing confidence in ourselves, we get shaky.

It is an indictment on us all that we can talk to someone on the other side of the world and even in space through technology, but because of fear avoid face-to-face communication with a work-mate or someone we see every day, or people within our own family… but especially someone who is dying.

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Guest Post – Naomi’s Notes – Cushion

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They met at a seven-year meditation/philosophy course, which required participants to travel to India each year for the 1st week in April for instruction. It was taught by  H E Tai Situ Rinpoche one of the great Meditation Masters.

The seating was cushioning on the floor, he sat in front of her.  He was from Germany with limited English and she was from New Zealand (NZ) with limited German but they were able to communicate.   They formed a group with the Spanish man that sat next to him and the Taiwanese woman that sat next to her.  The group exchanged email addresses and from time to time corresponded. When in India they would all have breakfast together.

After year three of the course, he wrote to say he had to drop out of the course as his 88-year-old mother was sick and he needed to care for her.  He wrote about his newly acquired knowledge in gynaecology, breast cancer, podiatry, and dentistry gained from having accompanied his mother to all of her appointments.

She wrote back and gave him some moral support.   She also sent a gift from the NZ sheep, woollen socks for both his mother and him. 

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Palace of Care – The Ties That Bind

Covid summer time and I’ve been wearing boring grey coloured scrubs for months now. As it became hotter I must admit that it has been good to not have to wear neckties – my usual trademark item.

My patients and their families usually enjoy them, so I will continue wearing them. They can be a good icebreaker, in that a doctor who wears cartoon ties probably isn’t so far up himself, chances are he’s approachable.

One Friday whilst wearing a rainbow trout on my neck I had asked my patient what tie she wanted me to wear on Monday. She said to wear a favourite one, and so I would.

I walked in and noticed that we had something in common. This had not been arranged and had happened purely by chance. Turquoise was the colour of my tie and the colour of her night dress, exactly the same colour.

Hey great minds think alike.

Yeah we both have great taste in colour.

I love Winnie the Pooh.

Heh, I’m the only doctor who doesn’t mind a bit of Pooh on his tie.

Haha, you know we have something else in common too.

Oh really, what’s that?

She took the turquoise short sleeve off her left shoulder revealing a Winnie the Pooh tattoo.

SNAP.

I was uncharacteristically speechless for a few seconds. Wow, synchronicity.

Tie requests were entertained over the next week, but then she became too unwell to choose.

When she was actively dying and unable to talk her family members presented me with something that she had wanted me to have.

Thank you, that’s really nice, I promise that I will wear it well.

Since then, on alternate Fridays, I wear a purple tuna fish around my neck.

3/80 of the ties in my collection

I think therefore I am? – Hearts and Minds

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To do palliative care and hospice well your heart does need to be in it. People can easily tell if you are not really there. It doesn’t have to be as obvious as someone who won’t sit down, or who constantly checks the time on their watch. Do you have somewhere more important to be at the moment, than in my room? Something more important that needs to be done than listening to me?

If someone’s heart isn’t really in it people can tell right away. The lack of attention that is paid to simple things. So we do want people to be engaged to actually care for people. It does need to be done professionally, with kindness and respect. People need to have firm boundaries that they do not cross. It’s about protecting yourself and also the person that you are working with. You can be friendly but cannot be their friend. You can be caring but it must be in a professional manner. We are guests in their lives, and we do not want to disrupt pre-existing relationships.

We are involved possibly in the final chapter of someone’s book of life. It is not about us, but about them. They are the stars of their own show, of their own movie, of their own stories. We are only extras, or play a tiny bit part. We may have only a few lines to say, and we will try to say them well. The direction of the story needs to be guided by the person going through it all. We would not be in the same room as them if they were not sick, if they did not need the care that we can provide. We must never forget that, that they are not here because of us, but that we are all here because of them. The patient needs to be at the centre of everything that we do, not their family members or friends but the actual person themselves.

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Palace of Care – See the difference Mum?

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The other doctor was Asian too, but he had such sad eyes.

I said to him, don’t look at me with your sad eyes.

See mum, he just told me really bad news, but he did it in a gentle fashion.

That’s the difference compared to the hospital doctors.

He sat down, talked to me, we had some laughs.

He prepared me for the bad news and then delivered it, and didn’t run away.

Sat right in front of me, asked me if I had any questions.

The others sort of threw the bad news at me, and then ran out of the room as if they’ve just thrown in a grenade.

Danger, danger, gotta get out before it explodes.

Hot potato, pass it on, quickly or you’ll burn your hands.

I can handle the bad news, I’ve had plenty of it. Where’s the respect, you just tell me the worst thing in the world, and then you run off as if you are the one who is hurting?

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Guest Post – Naomi’s Notes – Precious

Part 1

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At school two little six year olds had an argument.  They were both very upset when I called them over to talk to me.

I asked the first one what the problem was.

Pointing at the other girl with a quivering finger she said, amongst sobs, “she called me a F F F FAT BANANA. Why are you laughing?”

“Well,” I said, “are you a banana?”

“No.”

“Are you fat?”

“No.”

“Is it true?”

“No?”

Softly I said to her, “so darling if it were true it would be serious, but it’s not true so it’s funny isn’t it?”

I asked the other girl, “why did you say that?”

“I wanted her to be my friend but she didn’t want to,  so I called her a FAT BANANA…  Naomi,  I really love bananas.”

I smiled and said to her, “darling if you want someone to be your friend, that’s not the way to do it. First you  have to  help them if they need help, be kind to them and laugh at their jokes.   Then they will want to be your friend because they can see that you are a kind and caring  person.” 

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PIANO Lessons – First meeting

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Years ago I received a cold-call email from a teacher at one of the local primary schools. Naomi Lees had read my bio on the Hospice New Zealand Conference website. This was a conference at which I was a keynote speaker. Naomi said that from my bio it sounded like we had common interests and she invited me along to her primary school’s networking meeting.

I had always loved the idea of compassionate communities and thought it would be a good opportunity to connect with one of the local communities we serve. I was keen to meet Naomi, her school principal and other community members, at the PIANO (Papakura Information and Networking Opportunity) meeting. A cool name and I wondered what kind of music we would produce together.

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