I have this really awesome friend who is in the second year of her Master’s program to become an OT. She’s kind, smart, funny, creative, compassionate, encouraging and determined. She is the kind of person I would want looking out for me or someone I love, and I can tell you without a doubt that she is going to be an excellent OT. The relevant part here is that she is training to be an OT…as for the rest of it? Well, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag about my friend a little!
Anyway, this letter was inspired by a Friday evening chat with this very awesome friend of mine who was very understandably feeling drained after a long week at an oncology and hospice placement.
To all those overwhelmed healthcare providers out there…
…and I’m not just talking to doctors and nurses, I’m talking to all of you…PTs, OTs, SLPs, dietitians, social workers, child life specialists, pharmacists, techs, paramedics, counselors and all the other professions that I can’t think of off the top of my head! Some of this is probably relevant to teachers, too.
Maybe you’re relatively new to this and it’s still a shock to your system. You haven’t yet become desensitized to all of the pain, struggle and loss your patients are facing. Or maybe you’ve been doing this a long time and have become used to it. Maybe you feel like your job is hopeless or maybe you feel like it’s full of hope. Perhaps your experience even changes day to day, week to week.
I’m not one of you, so I can’t really understand where you’re at or how you’re feeling.
I am, however, one of your patients, and there are a few things I want you to know.
We patients talk a lot about our ‘teams’ of health care providers. I don’t think I know any patient with a serious illness or disability who hasn’t mentioned their team. You are part of this team, but since you’re on the front lines with us, you don’t really get to hear the way we talk about all of you, our teams, to other people. Oh, but I wish you did! Sure, there are always a few bad eggs, but for the most part we talk about all of you with respect and admiration. We talk about how much we trust you, how you changed our lives for the better, and how we’re just so grateful that you gave us the gift of your time. We appreciate you, and everyone who appreciates and loves us, in turn appreciates you.
Even when our interactions are fleeting, even if you don’t have a permanent spot on the team, you still play a part. For every uncomfortable or frightening situation we face, we talk about the people who made it a little easier. That was a really painful procedure…but the nurses were so gentle and reassuring. They woke me up at 5:30am to take blood…but the lab tech was really funny and made me laugh. I’m really scared in the ER and they don’t know what’s wrong with me yet…but they’re taking really good care of me. You are the ‘they.’ Even if we never see you again, we still appreciate you.
When we are facing unimaginable situations and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, that is our reality whether you are our healthcare provider or not. But here’s the cool part – you have the ability to help us face them. You have the power to make a terrible situation a little bit less terrible. We don’t want you to become all consumed with our problems, we just want you to do what you reasonably can to help us through them.
You becoming weighed down helps no one. Becoming desensitized is not necessarily a bad thing; it can make you better at your job. It’s in the best interest of you and your patients for you to be able to leave work at work. Please, don’t ever feel guilty that you get to go home and take a break from your job while we don’t, because we want you to go home.
Actually, we need you to go home, so that you can come back and care for us again. Clear your mind, enjoy your evening, see your family, watch your favourite show, do whatever you do. Live your life. That is what makes you able to show up at work the next day as the best version of yourself, able to do your job in the best way you know how. Taking care of yourself is actually one of the best ways you can take care of us, your patients; sometimes putting yourself first and putting your patients first is synonymous. We want you to advocate for your own health and well-being because we need your help advocating for our own.
One of our greatest wishes is for you to recognize that we are people as well as patients. We have diagnoses, prognoses and medical histories, sure, but that is just part of who we are. We are whole people still, and even if we don’t always remember so, we know that you are whole people, too. You are not only doctors, nurses, OTs, PTs…the list goes on and on. That is one part of you, and it’s a wonderful part of you, but it’s not your entire person. And that’s not a bad thing.
So as one of your patients, thank you for everything you do. Thank you for making taking care of me part of who you are.
Now go take care of yourself, too! Patient’s orders.
P.S. No, my signature is not that illegible! I had another copy of this with my real signature on it…but then I started to worry about if I lost my credit card and that person found my signature on here and buried me under thousands of dollars of debt. Yikes!