The illness had affected her speech making it difficult to understand. With some effort I could tune into what she was saying but there were some things that I could not understand. It was frustrating for her as her mind was sharp but the words would not come out right. The nerves controlling her vocal cords and her breathing muscles were not doing their job any more. She tried to tell us about her suffering but she could only use short sentences. She hadn’t been able to raise her voice for years, and even if she wanted to scream out loud, only a whisper would’ve been heard.
Her pain was not physical, she could handle physical pain and simple pain relief would have helped. The agony she felt she could no longer describe in words. Her sense of wholeness had long been destroyed, her ability to exist as a person had been torn apart. Mere words could not describe the torment she had lived with for six years. I tried to listen to her actively, I tried to read her situation, her illness ravaged poker face only provided scant clues. Intellectually I had an inkling of what she had lost, but I could not feel it during our first meeting. I needed more information before I could understand.
I’ve been practising Mindfulness meditation for the past seven years and I feel that it helps me to tune into my patients’ situations better. I still do my usual alcohol hand rub routine prior to entering each room, to bring myself into focus, to be present in the room.
I need to take in the whole atmosphere of the room, who else is in there, how are they interacting with each other. What is the emotional temperature of the space. It might be an inpatient room, an outpatient clinic, a hospital room, or at a patient’s home that I find myself.
A quick survey of the environment prior to beginning the assessment proper is useful. You look for extra equipment in the room. A commode chair can indicate difficulty with mobilising. Monkey bars or bed levers may confirm restricted independence. Is there equipment in the room, like oxygen tubing, oxygen concentrators, nebuliser or suction systems. Are there any hand held devices such as inhalers of sprays that the patient could give to themselves? Any walking aids? A sensor mat would indicate confusion and possible delirium. Not safe to transfer independently. Urinary catheter bags and tubes, and other drainage devices.
With observation alone you can find a lot of information, even before speaking to them. All of the above is assessed within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone. You also check out their visitors at the same time.