Help me help you understand me

By | February 21, 2017

Personal, human care needed to address both physical and emotional needs

My wife recently went to visit her very active parents. Her dad, while out walking the dog before light, tripped and fell. As he is on blood thinner, and he took a hard fall, they proceeded to go to the emergency room. Through the course of the visit, it was found he had a broken wrist. He was brought back a few days later for a head CAT scan (just to be careful since he did hit his head and is on a blood thinner), though he was completely asymptomatic. A few days later, he went back to the ER with a complete file of his medical records, because his ribs were hurting and he wanted to talk to them to make sure they knew everything about him

Though the initial emergency visit was quite appropriate, the two follow up visits and the five days of worry and confusion could have very well been avoided. When I discussed the situation with my wife, I asked what was driving my father-in-law to want the head CAT scan and the follow up visit. Her reply made all the sense in the world. She said he had a good friend who had a similar fall, but chose not to go to the hospital, and died within a short time due bleeding in his head. This fear was overwhelming to him and drove his behaviors, as one might suspect.

Could things have gone differently? I believe so. The initial visit was very focused on “what hurts and let’s address those issues.” They did not stop and ask a very important question that is core to our human experience: “Is there anything that you are worried about?” If they had, he might have shared his concerns about the event that happened to his friend and the desire for them to really know his history. That would have led to a brief conversation, and the likely decision not to do the CAT scan. The second short conversation that might have led to a different result was what to expect over the next few days. As is very common after a fall, he started to hurt in other places. Once again, his fears over his new symptoms led him back to the ER where he was correctly told that hurting in new places after a fall is to be expected and there is nothing to worry about.

The healthcare he received was excellent and appropriate, but the human care was lacking. If that one question had been asked, and a bit more conversation on what to expect had happened, a better experience for all involved would have occurred at a lower cost. We need to remember that when we are treating others, we need to define our success not by the care we deliver, but by the true results of easing the vulnerability of those we serve. We need to understand the emotional dynamics that are in play, and we can only do that through true communication and addressing all of a person’s needs, both physical and emotional.