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.
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.