Last Saturday, I went to a new hairdresser. My old one was too busy, I was too busy, so we didn’t manage to make an appointment. But my hair was getting grayer (I was evolving to fifty shades of grey, but that’s another story) and with some important events on my agenda, I needed an instant refreshment. So I looked for a new hairdresser and found one nearby home. What’s very important to me: I could make an appointment online. I like making choices in an independent way. Saturday, I left home in a hurry, busy with my adolescents who always need me the most at the most unpredictable moments. My goal was to mask my shades of gray and cut the dots. So I arrived at my new hairdressers, just in time but, let’s say a bit overstressed.
I was allowed to take a seat immediately and they offered me a free head massage, and a latte macchiato (one of my favorites!). After that, we had a short talk about the color of my hair dye and they left me comfortable with WiFi and an Ipad. Me-time!
After 45 minutes it was time for the hair dress discussion. My new hairdresser ASKED me what was important to me: do you have the time to uncurl your hair every day? No, I haven’t and I know from the past that I’m just like a poodle when my hair is short and in natural curls. Then he started to explain the important things to keep in mind when he, as a hairdresser, suggests a short haircut to a lady with natural curls like mine. It felt so good, so comfortable, I trusted him and not because he is the sidekick of Jani Kasaltis, but because he was authentic in his comment to me. I felt a human connection.
I admit: I don’t regret the desicion to cut my hair and I’m overwhelmed with compliments about my new look. My new hairdresser reset my goals, he let me shine and that’s not only good for me, but also for him. It’s the best advertising he can have and the fact is, that’s not only true in hair dressing.
So today I want to tell you something about honesty, authenticity, empathy and trust, but also something about vulnerability and being wholehearted.
Do you know the name of the one who sits right from you? Left from you? Behind you? In front of you?
Yes? No? Just go ahead ask their names, make contact. What do we need to know about the other to get to know him/her better? What questions should we ask? For which answers are we prepared?
If you ask questions to the other, provide some time, don’t ask just for asking, but ask for the answer that follows. Expect the unexpected. If you don’t ask you’ll never know. And LISTEN, the power of deep listening to another person, with full attention and without judgment or agenda is one of the most profoundly healing acts a person can provide to another. This are not my words, but a quote by Margaret Wheatley.
Can you picture a moment that someone really listened to you? Or someone sincerely asked you how you were doing?
Nowadays every self-respecting organization in healthcare talks about placing the patient central, putting the patient first. Who is in favour of this? Who sees the added value of this concept?
Well I absolutely DON’t like it. When I think about putting the patient central, I see images in my head of the bullied child on the playground, of a person in the middle, all on his own with a lot of people around him who decide for him. The patient should not be there alone in the middle, the patient should be NEXT to us, on an equal level, as a real partner. Relationships in healthcare are not like Jim Carrey who meets God in Bruce Almighty.
When you would ask nurses why they choose to become a nurse, you would only have 2 or 3 answers.
They like to solve problems
They want to know how a body works
They want to take care of someone
Our nurse education is mostly focused on how to DO and not on how to BE.
Personally I believe that our job is much about partnership, and building human relationships, as it is about medical care. “When I started my career as a nurse, I believed I was there to rescue people. That is how we are trained, but I’ve learned during the years that what patients need most is someone to listen to them, and to accompany them throughout their illness. Patients are just people, like all of us. Help the other as peer, care with the other and not above the other. Treat the patient not as your own family, but treat them as they wants to be treated.
In healthcare too often we reduce a person to a product, a problem to resolve, so we can go to another problem. But people are not machines, are not puzzles, people have feelings, emotions,… patients are vulnerable just because they are human beings, like you and me.
Nursing is one of the most fortunate jobs to be in. We should stay aware of the fact that we meet every day unique and fascinating people, people who suffer mentally and/or physically. People in their most vulnerable part of life.
Last weekend I saw a TED Talk from Dirk De Wachter where he suggested that love and empathy mostly start with vulnerability. True connections come up when people are vulnerable. A few months ago I also read a book from Brene Brown, she is research professor at the University of Houston, where she is studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. From her research I’ve learned the word ‘Wholehearted’. Wholehearted people have the COURAGE to be imperfect, COMPASSION to be kind to themselves and CONNECTION as a result of being honest and authentic.
Connection gives a purpose, a meaning to our lifes and compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. By being wholehearted we make the uncertain certain, we do not pretend being perfect but we can be ourselves in every situation.
I’m proud to say I can call myself a wholehearted person, but it was a long way, a learning curve. One of the most difficult parts for me was to put my chair to the table.
A little while ago I read another book, ‘Lean In’ from Sheryl Sandberg (COO from Facebook) where she describes the hurdles a woman needs to take to reach her ambitions. Men still run the world and the world of healthcare is not an exception. Do I care about that? I don’t think in terms of man and woman, but in terms of humans.
Is it difficult to reach the top? Yes it is, but I’m not that sure that’s because I’m a woman, or because of the fact that I’m a wholehearted woman… . If I need to choose, honestly I prefer being wholehearted instead of being at the top. Audrey Hepburn once said: Not a career, not wealth, not intelligence certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.
I started this talk with a story and I would like to end with another one. It was November 2016, the doctor called me, if I had some time to see a particular patient. I had already some conversations with this lady before. I came into the room and asked her how she felt that day. She answered me: oh it’s fine with me, I’ll make it happen, with a smile from ear to ear, but with a sense of sadness in her eyes. At that very moment I asked her: ”Are you sure you’re all right? Please be honest, you really don’t need to put on that happy face all the time, crying isn’t a sign of weakness and it’s definitely allowed here. What followed was a moment of silence and a river of tears, but the ice was broken, the trust earned and the conversation started. That day she carried a copy of her diary with her and she handed it over to me. Afterwards she told me at that moment, I was no longer the IBD nurse of the hospital sitting next to her, but I was the mom, wife and understanding friend, the one with the same life goals and interest, the one honestly interested in her story.
At that moment we both didn’t know that this was the start of something extra-ordinary. Last year she was often the person next to me in the tandem presentations that we bring about the value of shared care. She’s one of the persons who knows me best, she’s my partner in crime, my best friend, my reflection board and so much more. She’s here today and I want to thank her for the knowledge we share, the special bond we have and for being my friend and soulmate. Together we are living proof that WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER. Inge, THANK YOU for your authenticity and empathy in the experiences that you share. Without you I wouldn’t be the person I am today and even more, I would not have been here on this stage, you make me a better version of myself.
This story is based on authenticity and empathy, but most of all on MUTUAL RESPECT. And that’s what I wish for healthcare and for all of you.
I’m not just a nurse, but I’m a nurse and I’m proud of it. THANK YOU