I was impressed by the two second-year medical students who came to see me a couple of days ago as part of their course – I understand the idea was to get a bit more practical experience of talking to actual patients, and to learn from the horse’s mouth about our experiences, rather than from a textbook or a lecturer.
Having quizzed me on my diagnosis and treatment, they then explained that they were keen to get any advice from me on how they should act with patients. “We don’t just want to be clinically good doctors,” one of them said. “We want to be able to talk to patients in the right way, and to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible.”
I’m not sure how much help I was – I told them to make sure they check whether the patient has any further questions before heading for the door, and to be careful not to slip into medical jargon without explaining it – but I was glad they were asking these questions. They were impressed by my part in having got the ball rolling for the free patient wi-fi we now have installed on the ward, and I explained how important I think it is for patients to be able to live as comfortably as possible when both confined and going through what can be, physically and emotionally, an incredibly difficult experience.
These two students seemed to understand the fundamental importance of both parts of treatment: the medical side to heal the body on the one hand; and the emotional/environmental factors to keep the patient as comfortable as possible while undergoing the medical bits. It would be easy to focus on the former at the expense of the latter; a doctor’s first duty is to cure the patient, after all. I was pleased to hear the registrar ask today whether I was managing to stave off boredom in here – not because I wanted some help in doing so (between books, magazines, TV, DVDs and the internet I have plenty to keep me amused), but because it was important to me that he cared about that side of things.
This is why my internet campaign was so important to me last time I was in, and why I’m delighted that Suzie Ruggles’ Full Circle Fund has gone from strength to strength since she initially started it up during my previous stay. Suzie was working on the Ruth Myles Unit at the time and we talked for hours about the importance of not only healing patients, but of helping improve their everyday lives in hospital.
The Full Circle Fund focuses on patients’ quality of life, predominantly through complementary treatments such as reflexology and massage. I was originally relatively sceptical about the benefits of such alternative therapy, but when you’re stuck in hospital being blasted with chemo (for example), a relaxing reflexology session can really brighten your day, and anything that can brighten the day of anyone – particularly someone undergoing difficult treatment – is more than okay by me.
What’s more, life shouldn’t stop just because you’re in hospital – but I’ll write more about that next time…