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'We need to start seeing the person behind the patient’

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A couple of weeks ago, I had to call an ambulance for a close family member in the middle of the night. As a rule, I’d say I am calm and decisive under pressure but it was a very different story when I was faced with caring for someone I loved during a crisis.

Fast forward a couple of days and I have turned into the relative that all nurses dread – asking difficult questions and checking charts with a critical eye, filling in fluid balance and giving injection technique marks out of 10. I didn’t want to leave at the end of visiting time because I truly believed the nurses couldn’t manage without me supervising their work. You can imagine how annoying I was, and all I can do is apologise. But I have learnt several valuable lessons from this experience.

What makes my behaviour so embarrassing now, looking back on it, is that the care my relative received was really good. So lesson number one was that nurses are really very well trained and good at their jobs. This may not be a surprise but I think it is often overlooked in the daily grind of the NHS, so give yourselves a pat on the back. The second lesson, and the one I really have been reflecting on, is this – it is so different being on the other side of the fence, being a relative instead of a professional.

I was amazed at how powerless I felt, and how easy it was for staff to not give me the full picture and to treat my relative as just another person in a bed to be made well enough to go home. Yes, the care was good but there was no time or inclination on the part of the nurses to get to know either of us better and to explain things fully to us. How many of us, working with patients day after day get used to not seeing the person behind the patient? How easy do we find it to focus on the task we have to do next, rather than pausing for a moment to check that the person we are with is not desperate to share anxieties or ask questions?

I felt vulnerable and unsure, and I am used to the workings of a hospital ward. How much harder must it be for those who do not work in and understand the system? In the midst of being busy, let’s all try to be still for long enough for those in our care and their loved ones to catch up with us and help us to see who they are, and to share something of ourselves with them.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse in Cambridge

Want to read more of Alison Gadsby’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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