Look inside for the true patient experience in healthcare
My most recent blog, “In healthcare, small gestures provide big outcomes” provoked much discussion at Park Nicollet. Two of our physicians have similar stories which they share below.
See the person inside, Bill Anderson, MD
Several years ago I learned a similar lesson when I was caring for an older woman who was dying from pulmonary fibrosis. Left handicapped from her disease she was wheelchair bound, on constant oxygen and way more physically old than her actual age. We had had several good visits attempting to make small changes here or there to keep her comfortable as her disease marched on. I had made time at one visit to just simply talk for a moment. I don’t recall what was said but I do recall what door it opened. The next visit she brought a picture of herself as a 23 year old college cheerleader. She said I had asked her something about her past and she wanted to show me who she was. As she pointed to her head, she said the 23 year old woman was still insider her, it’s just that the body had given out. I now realize that is true for most of our patients, even those much younger.
The unasked question, Sharon Hepler, MD
10 years ago an elegant older Japanese American couple came for a urology consult for the wife. I knew she had grown up on the west coast and asked her what brought her to Minnesota, being a transplant myself. She told me that they had been locked in a camp during WWII and that the only way out was to get married and move to the Midwest. So they did. An amazing story that I doubt she told many people. If you don’t ask the question, you won’t know the answer. The trick is to figure out what the question is!
My own unasked question
These stories reminded me of Frieda, a woman in her 80s I saw regularly in my practice. Frieda complained every visit about swollen, fat legs. However, her legs appeared normal as did her multiple neurological exams. By the 2nd year as her doctor, I dreaded the inevitable questions and complaints about her legs. Born in Germany, Frieda survived the holocaust and immigrated to the United States as a young woman. One day I finally asked Dr. Hepler’s ” unasked question.” Frieda told me she was a dancer in Germany and that, inside herself, she continued to feel she was a young dancer with beautiful legs.
Frieda anguished about her “fat legs” for another decade. But after glimpsing the young dancer inside, I felt different. I understood her complaints in the context of an elderly woman, a holocaust survivor, feeling the grief and loss of her youthful career as a dancer as well as the immeasurable and unspeakable losses of family, homeland and friends.
The comments from Drs. Anderson and Hepler, as well as from others reflect exquisite attention to patient needs, the hallmark of the patient experience at Park Nicollet.
Do you have any comments? We’d love to hear from you. We encourage a free exchange of ideas but, as always, we reserve the right to remove comments that make personal criticisms or attacks on individuals or specific businesses.