It is no secret that I’m a friend of Dr. Catherine Crock and her Gathering of Kindness and Hush Foundation organizations. I first met Cath twelve years ago when I went to Australia to present at a conference. I was a new wobbly speaker, and Cath and her family embraced me like a long-lost friend and gave me the resolve I needed to speak at a conference so far from my home.
It was a great honour to be asked to participate on the 2021 Gathering of Kindness’s opening panel called International Grand Rounds: Kindness Across the World. The people who organize events about kindness in health care practice what they preach. It isn’t a surprise that Cath’s team of Amy Maddison, Kathryn Anderson and Andrew Gill are exceedingly thoughtful and kind. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so supported for a panel before – we had a chance to submit questions, a tech rehearsal, lots of explanatory emails, and time to get to know the other panelists before we spoke together.
I joined some great thinkers about compassion in health care from the UK: Suzie Bailey and Dr. Bob Klaber. It was carefully moderated by Michael West (I recently wrote about his book Compassionate Leadership).
We were all online, of course, and not in person. While I miss the networking and hugs, I do appreciate that the entire Gathering of Kindness events are now accessible to those with a device and an Internet connection -- and are reasonably priced this week for anybody anywhere in the world. If you pine for more humanity in health care, as I do, this event is for you.
Here are some quotes from the panel - thanks to the folks on Twitter who recorded them:
"Compassion is the most significant intervention in health care." - Professor Michael West
"Our business is investing in care, in kindness and in compassion." - Dr. Bob Klaber.
Suzie Bailey spoke eloquently about teams being given time to care for each other and how small acts of kindness change culture bit by bit.
I beat on the same drum that I’ve been pounding on for over a decade now: hospitals should be healing spaces; efficiency trumps empathy every single time; staff and patient well-being is intertwined; it starts with individual actions, like helping someone who is lost in the hospital corridors.
I had more notes, but of course with a panel you go with the flow, depending on which way the conversation goes. I did talk about the importance of self-compassion beyond bubble baths and yoga classes.
The ‘I suffered so you should suffer too’ concept in medical training and nursing school is such baloney. That's the reason I dropped out of nursing school. I was led to believe I wasn't tough enough. Training is where the compassion starts to leak out of health care.
Self-compassion isn’t all woo-woo - believe me, I’ve been in therapy for five years trying to figure this out for myself - and as West explains in his Compassionate Leadership book, self-compassion is actually about being honest with yourself about hard emotions – to acknowledge them so you can move through them. He says that burying feelings also leads to defensiveness and the inability to admit to yourself that you’ve been wrong – which is dangerous for patient safety and teamwork reasons.
I see systems rob health care settings of compassion with their policy decisions. Not funding patient comforts in operational budgets is an example of this. Patient lounges and kitchens, fridges with food for hungry children in clinics, art on the walls and even benches for people to sit down on are charity-funded and seen as ‘extra.’ When comforts are funded by charities, they are seen as optional. Comforts are a way to demonstrate compassion. As the Michael West quote says, compassion is the most significant intervention in health care that there is.
We have lost our way. This bleeds into comforting staff too, a nearly non-existent concept in hospitals, as staff are expected to be perfect robots, as if they are working in a widget factory. This is wrong.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, and Bob Maunder and Jon Hunter’s book Damaged contains an important passage about the notion of health care professionals being compulsive caregivers. The authors explain that people are drawn to health care to care for others but do a miserable job of caring for themselves. Hunter and Maunder say that people are so engaged in supporting others that their needs and vulnerabilities barely register.
While I’m not a clinician, I am a mother of three, and I related strongly to this concept. Do caregivers even know how to be compassionate with themselves? I’d venture not. Part of the answer to this is having the courage to say no: no to overtime, no to extra shifts, no to checking email on your days off. You do not owe an organization anything. In fact, if you leave, you will be immediately replaced by another warm body.
I’ll end on a punk rock note, which might seem out of place in this talk about kindness, but trust me, it is absolutely not. (I wrote about my own gentle punk rock son years ago).
Eight people recently tragically died at a Travis Scott concert when they were crushed by the crowd. In response, someone on Twitter posted a powerful video from the band Linkin Park, where lead singer Chester Bennington explained the rules at concerts so the audience can keep safe.
“If someone falls, what do you do? YOU PICK THEM UP.”
If you've never been to a punk show, you might not know that this is classic etiquette for mosh pits. If someone falls down, you stop what you are doing and pick them back up. If someone gets caught in the crowd and doesn't want to be there, you stop and help them get out. You do not selfishly continue on, oblivious to someone who needs help. This is what communities do. They look out for each other.
In this pandemic, we have all fallen down in some way. The only way we are going to survive is to STOP and PICK EACH OTHER UP.
Thank you to the Gathering of Kindness for lighting the way to care for each other, for carving out the time this week for us to have gentle conversations about how we can stop and pick each other up. I sure could use a hand up right about now, how about you?
My new eBook, Ducks in a Row: Health Care Reimagined is now available for pre-order at Amazon, Kobo and Google.
Both the paperback and eBook will be released on January 18, 2022. Visit the book page for more information!
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