Mind your language!

I have realised as I’ve reviewed my previous blog posts that they tend to be quite personal. This post started as a very non-personal post but then, as I rolled ideas around my mind, I was reminded of times when the language used by Healthcare Professionals (HCP) had profound effects on me; some of these were positive and some negative but all forever imprinted in my memory and all influenced my experience of particular situations so, once again, this post will include my own experiences!

Late summer is a very bad time for me as in August 2013 my beautiful husband left me and our 3 sons and disappeared for 3 hauntingly long, soul crushing days when he made a serious attempt on his life only saved by the fact he was a pretty clean living fella with a nice healthy liver which did its job and chucked the massive paracetamol/ibuprofen overdose out of his body causing permanent liver damage but leaving him alive. This is not a post about mental health or suicide so the details of the lead up to this are not relevant here but suffice to say those 3 days were the worst of my life. I envisioned having to tell our 3 young sons their daddy was never coming home and having to raise my boys without my best friend and soul mate by my side. I imagined trying to support my in-laws with the grief of a second child having already buried their daughter…..they were the darkest 3 days of my life. The reason I am sharing this is to demonstrate the importance of the language we use as HCP.

By day 3 of this nightmare I was fully expecting a suicide note to turn up in the post, instead I got a phone call from a nurse from an emergency department in a hospital ‘down south’. She rang to tell me my husband had turned up and was being treated for the overdose he had taken. Now, the past 3 days had pretty much broken me but I did not break down in tears on the phone for many reasons, one of them being I was a practising counsellor at the time and was familiar with the language of attempted suicide and depression and I heard the news in a seemingly calm way. I then came off the phone and broke down both physically and emotionally.

My husband informed me, during a conversation much much later when we were debriefing during one of hundreds of conversations we had about that time that the nurse told him she thought I was “very clinical and a bit cold considering what she had just told me”. This stayed with me and continues to. I felt judged and misrepresented. I wanted to ring her and tell her that the reaction she heard was the result of 3 days without food and very little sleep, the reaction of a desperate wife and mother clinging to the only version of herself which was solid (the counsellor). I doubt that this particular nurse would even remember that conversation  a week later never mind 4 years later, but I remember it and my husband remembers it. He didn’t need to hear his wife had been clinical; he had no idea what sort of reception he was going to receive when we finally spoke to each other but what he needed to hear was that I had been informed and was ready to talk to him when he felt ready (which is actually exactly what I had said).

In situations of high emotion if you don’t know what to say, stick to the facts. Do not include your opinion and do not pass judgement.

So, onto another example of poor communication and the use of language.

During and after the traumatic delivery of my eldest son (for the midwives amongst us he was an undiagnosed malpresentation and a 36 hour induced labour ended with a rush to theatre for a trial forceps then emergency c-section). Things midwives said to me included:

During labour:

“what do you mean you aren’t getting the sensation to push, everyone gets the sensation to push” (not true, however I believed I was weird and not a ‘proper woman’ as I wasn’t ‘doing it’ right)

“you aren’t trying hard enough” (I used quite a lot of bad language at this point)

“Please try to push harder we need to see more maternal effort” (I cried)

post delivery:

Well, if you had pushed that baby out you’d have broken his neck” (Yes, yes this was actually said to me – his ear was the presenting part so it was probably true but I did not need to hear it)

“We took bets that you wouldn’t deliver him naturally” (so many things wrong with this sentence I do not know where to begin!)

So….therein ends a couple of examples of the poor language used to me personally during interactions with hcp (I have lots of examples from friends but I won’t share them as they are their stories!)

I now want to share some good examples of when HCP have used language in a positive way and how these have also stayed with me.

Following the above traumatic delivery my community midwife (who I respected so much she is a major reason I wanted to be a midwife and who I now know as a colleague) said to me “none of this was your fault. You did nothing wrong and nothing you did could have changed the outcome” (she knew I had wanted a homebirth with candles and words of love not theatre lights and words of terror). These words alone gave me permission to let myself off the hook for not being good enough to have a ‘normal’  birth.

*side note*  Please be mindful of using the word normal it can be very damaging. In terms of delivery I feel ‘vaginal delivery’ is enough without the word normal in front of it, its unnecessary. 

When my middle son broke his wrist and I waited 24 hours to take him to a&e because I thought it was just a ‘bit bruised’ I felt like the worst mother in the world and told anybody who would listen how awful I was and how could possibly I leave him 24 hours in pain poor little soul etc etc. A lovely radiographer took me to one side and whispered in my ear “I am a radiographer, my son broke his ankle and it took me 24 hours to bring him in; I thought he was just moaning”! Brilliant! Still makes me smile and instead of coming out of that situation feeling awful I came out feeling forgiven (although the middle boy still mentions it when he is wanting sympathy!)

All my sons have been in hospital for one reason or another most of which were when they were babies and the language used when communicating with me as a terrified mother has mostly been lovely and comforting (we will ignore the paediatrician who told me I would not be ‘allowed’ in the room when my 8 week old son was having a cannula sited in his head as we mothers tend to get ‘hysterical’ AND the paediatrician who looked at the 90ml bottle of breastmilk it had taken me AGES to express and said “is that all you’ve managed?”……we shall ignore them!!!!).

But this is what I want to leave you with (and something I remind myself of when working with women and their families)…

We may not remember all the people we work with and support or all the things we say but they remember us and they remember what we have said.

…………………….Years and years later.

Ask your friends and family about the midwife who delivered their babies….ask them what she was like (my Nana,at aged 95, could still remember the midwife telling her to stop screaming when she was delivering my 11lb mother as she may disturb the neighbours!).

Ask your friends and relatives about their GP and the things they have said to them over the years,  or the nurse who looked after them when they had their tonsils out when they were 7 years old (“eat the cornflakes or your mummy won’t be able to come and see you” ….I realise I have not had great experiences with HCP!!!!); ask them about the student midwife who took them to one side when their wife was haemorrhaging post delivery and explained who all the scary people who had just rushed into the room were and what they were doing; ask them about the consultant who told them there was nothing more they could do for their beloved dad; ask them about the importance of language and words.

Also, don’t lose sight of the influence of non-verbal communication: our body language speaks VOLUMES. Being clinically good is fundamental to being an effective HCP but being kind and respectful ensures the experience of the people we care for is remembered for the right reasons not the wrong reasons.

What we say matters. It MATTERS. If we are having a bad day and we are a bit too blunt with our language or we are too harassed to sit down and explain a procedure or we are tired and turn a blind eye to somebody you know is on the verge of tears and needs a friendly ear…..these things matter. Of course we have bad days but share these with your colleagues and friends; try really really hard to not let this influence the experience of the people we care for as they are mostly vulnerable and usually scared.

Thank you x

 

 

 

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Student Nurse Advocate

images.jpegAdvocating for patients, in my opinion, is one of our most privileged roles and one we should take very seriously. I have often found, our position as Student Nurses affords us a certain advantage when it comes to patient’s openness right from day 1. Because we are often very hands-on, we know our patients very intimately and they feel more able to open-up to us about smaller concerns they may not feel were important enough to raise with their doctor or consultant for example. This carries a responsibility for us to make sure we take all patient’s concerns seriously and act on/escalate anything that, using our theoretical knowledge, may be of importance to their care. This also takes a pinch of courage to have confidence in your instincts and “back yourself” as we say on the Rugby pitch.

Last week while assisting a patient with his wash (which is often a time when I learn the most about a patient) he told me he hadn’t slept well that evening as he had visited the bathroom over 10 times in the night. This patient was due for discharge in the coming days so this was concerning for me. As an elderly gentleman with hypertension, heart disease and other comorbidities, he was at risk of Falls and if he is going up and down to the bathroom so regularly, especially in the night, he may sustain a serious injury such as a fractured neck of femur. I looked through his drug kardex and found he was on very high doses of furosemide, a loop diuretic that is often prescribed to patients with Heart failure to prevent oedema.Renal_Diuretics.gif

I asked the patient if he was happy for me to discuss this with his doctors and a specialist continence nurse to see if something could be done to help either reduce this frequency or make provisions for his discharge so he isn’t at an increased falls risk, he agreed and I approached his doctor.

This encounter wasn’t entirely successful. When I proposed reducing his diuretics to the doctor, initially his response was “Do you want him to die of heart failure?” – in front of the patient…

keep-calm-and-back-yourself-4Not exactly the response I was hoping for, but I explained my concerns from a Nursing point of view and emphasised I am aware that his furosemide was prescribed for a reason and it is entirely his decision, I just wanted to advocate my patient’s best interests.

This exchange I felt didn’t end on a particularly positive note, so later in the day I apologised to the doctor saying “I didn’t mean to question his treatment I just wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t make you aware of his concerns to see if we could work together towards a solution”. The doctor was much more amicable and smiled and said he understood and would consider what could be done.

Not long after this, the same doctor stopped me and said he had written a letter to the patient’s GP to recommend reducing his diuretics in the community and observe his response. He felt changing his medications the day before discharge might impact on his fitness for discharge. He also suggested trialling Oxybutynin. When I recognised Oxybutynin as an anti-muscarinic (which would improve his feelings of urgency), his face lit up. I have a feeling, he may not have expected me to possess such knowledge.

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So many speech bubbles but 1 shared goal – patient’s wellbeing

Only upon writing this have I realised just how many units of study went into this encounter; Communications, Anatomy and Physiology, Pharmacology, Applied Pharmacology, Nursing Therapeutics, Recovery focused care and Medicines Management all informed my actions in this case. Reflecting on this scenario I am really pleased with the outcomes we achieved. Not only was the gentleman’s GP made aware of our concerns and recommendations but I managed to speak to the Trust’s continence specialist nurse and get her recommendations for interim provisions to help the patient transition into community. I fed all this back to the patient who was visibly relieved and so grateful we had pursued his concerns and formulated an action plan he understood and would work for him.

Advocating for patients is a vital part of the Nursing role and we can see advocacy in the NMC code in various different guises (see 3.4, 4.1, 8.6, 8.7 & 9.3).

DILP – Sisters are doing it for themselves!

I’m standing on my own two feet out here in Colombo, Sri Lanka for my final placement of second year – the DILP (Developing Independent Learning in Practice) placement. After only a week I hardly know where to begin?

I’ve been working in a surgical ward of a private hospital in Sri lanka’s capital so it’s pretty much the best you can expect from medical care in the country.Sri Lanka is a developing country so I knew it wouldn’t be like working in the swish NHS hospitals of Manchester but the main thing that’s surprised me is the difference in the nursing role!

Here nurses are very much still at the beck and call of the medics. All the transcribing, paperwork and admin goes through the nurses here compared to back in England. In fact, even the bread and butter of British nursing – the obs – are done by doctors here! 13348906_10209649421382561_788601227_n

In one awkward exchange a doctor began to take a patient’s BP and I said “Oh don’t worry I just took it – it was 138/80” the other nurses looked horrified and the doctor looked shocked and confused but swiftly the moment passed and he carried on taking the patient’s blood pressure. I felt insulted! Like my skills weren’t being trusted? But this is a different culture and with different ways of doing things. I had to come to terms with the reality –  It wasn’t me!  – It was the system!

13393017_10209649420822547_236201728_nThe nursing hierarchy is very different, with  no matrons or specialist nurses. The sister’s usually muck in and take on patients therefore leadership within the ward is much more abstract.

I’m very much enjoying the start of this new adventure in my nursing education and feel very privileged to have been afforded such an experience.

I’ll keep you all informed of progress week by week, any questions you have for me or questions you’d like me to ask the staff please do email in or comment on our Facebook page!