Compassion

I walked around the ward surrounded by acutely ill patients trying to understand how on earth to practice anything! You see, medical students need to devote a lot of time practicing our newly acquired skills on real-life patients if we want to be good doctors. Yet these patients were so far gone, their minds so broken that it was impossible to make any sense of what they were saying or doing.

From the incredible Karen Armstrong's http://charterforcompassion.org/

Photo from the incredible Karen Armstrong’s http://charterforcompassion.org/

I had approached a patient earlier- he couldn’t concentrate on much. The next stared at the floor, completely mute; while my very presence infuriated another so much that he screamed and screamed! Knowing how much this specific patient liked to throw bodily fluids at folks, I decided to walk away. I am not cut out for Psychiatry, I thought. How do you help anyone this ill?! I sat down feeling very stupid and wondering what I am possibly meant to be learning when a nurse struck up a conversation. She listened patiently and gave me several tips.

Thus brightening up a little I walked over to a new admission to our ward- an agitated man whose mind was riddled with psychosis. We ended up having a useful chat; somehow he understood I was a student doctor trying to practise my skills. I learnt a lot on my ward that day. But perhaps the most important of all was an insight into compassion. My helpful nurse crystallised it best, “Even if their words make no sense, respond to the emotions behind the words. They may not have seen a lot of understanding.” A poignant and practical lesson to carry with me throughout my future career.

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2 Responses to Compassion

  1. gspsychology says:

    Great post ! I can relate, having volunteered as an assistant psychologist in a hospital, mainly focusing on the elderly. Quite a lot of them suffered from dimentia, but I especially remember this one lady with the most severe dimentia I have ever encountered. She tried to talk to me, but her words and accompanied facial expressions would not make any sense. I did, however, made a decision to stay with her, hold her hand and responded with my facial expressions. I stayed with her awhile, and once I was about to leave, she seemed to be in quite a bit brighter mood, it was as if the dimentia cloud has lifted for a very brief moment, she squeezed my hand, looked at me smiling with watery eyes, and said the first comprehensive thing that day – she thanked me. Sometimes just being there for the patients, showing your understanding and caring with body language, and listening – well, they can do magic ! 🙂

    • Suravi says:

      Thanks, Giedre! I am thrilled that you liked my post! Your experience sounds very touching. It is so important to remember these lessons & weave them into the more practical aspects of learning to be a medical doctor. Compassion actually ends up making assessing psychopathology a little easier!

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