Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A tribute to hospital staff who astonished us . . .

[Finished just before I received the emergency call about which I just posted.]

Dave, Jonelle, Sarita and I talked about this several times over the last week and a half/two weeks: The staff in the Labor & Delivery and Neonatal Intensive Care Units at St. Joseph Hospital/Denver absolutely stunned us. At one point, Dave and Jonelle said, "They have reestablished our faith in the medical profession."

I said, "What? . . . Why?" --And part of my question arose from knowing (or sensing I knew) how well Jonelle had been cared for during her last delivery in which she had had to undergo an emergency C-section to save her life.

What we discovered, partially by pure observation, partially by conversation, were--among many other points, I'm sure--these things. And I want to list them by way of tribute.

Overall: the staff of St. Joseph's Labor & Delivery and Neonatal Intensive Care Units communicate effectively. But this is how that looked to this observer:
  • To quote the doctor who pulled us aside on Saturday evening and sat and talked with us for half an hour (or, at least, to convey the gist of what he said): "We have a saying here: 'We are here to treat the entire family' . . . because the whole family is involved in what is going on." Therefore, our questions and concerns were important to him . . . and to the other staff members. --He . . . and they, all . . . communicated that message through their actions. Consistently.

    We, all of us, were important to them. And they proved that.

  • As they walked into the room (while Jonelle was in the hospital), and when we walked into the NICU (when we would visit there), they made sure to greet us, to identify who they were, why they were there, and what their roles were . . . and, though it was not so noticeable to us, they made sure to identify each one of us and to acknowledge who we were and why we were present. --This was something we noticed immediately, within minutes of first entering the recovery room following Jonelle's surgery. Just the act of identifying themselves by name . . . and honoring us--and themselves--by making sure we all understood each other's roles.
  • They listened intently to whatever we had to say, whatever questions we had.
  • They looked us in the eye--each one who asked a question--as they answered our questions. There was no looking around, no "being distracted" with "other duties" that might call.
  • They communicated thoroughly.
  • They communicated knowledgeably.
  • They communicated as much as we wanted to know and in a patient and astonishingly unhurried manner.

    --It was clear: Our questions mattered.
  • They communicated in a manner that honored the hearer--whether it was any one of us who was a member of the family, or it was another member of the staff. --I never saw anyone "talk down" to someone else.

    All of the above meant,
  • There was amazing unity among the staff. We saw no dissension or distance between doctors and nursing staff. They fully honored one another as fellow professionals and human beings.

    Continuing with the theme of excellent communication:
  • They told us [and now I am speaking primarily in behalf of Jonelle and Dave] . . . --They told us what they intended to do and why they intended to do it . . . before they did it. Always. Consistently.
  • They fully explained what they were going to do if we ever had any questions.
  • There was no sense on our part that we needed to "shut up" and simply acquiesce to their treatments.
  • We, all of us, were an integral part of the treatment process.
  • They were all well-informed of what was happening. (Noticeable: Every shift, the staff who were coming on made sure to engage in a thorough debriefing from and by the staff who were departing.
  • They were well-educated about the issues they were dealing with. They could speak knowledgeably with us on whatever topic was of concern. And yet even as (for example) one of the nurses fully explained a matter, she would offer--indeed, make the effort--to pull in a doctor: "_______ asked ________. Would you mind explaining it to him [or her]?" --What an amazing experience to hear virtually the same explanation, in slightly different words, from two different sources! What wonderful confirmation of competency!
Much of what I have said here, at this point, seems so reasonable.

But, as Jonelle and Dave noted, these are not typical of what they experienced 20 months ago at another local hospital.


One more observation.

I believe it was Saturday night, as four of us were gathered around Gracie Lou, as tears were flowing, as prayers were being said . . . it struck me what a difficult job these staff members--especially the NICU nurses--have during times of deep distress and stress on the parts of the families.

How do you know when to speak up? How do you know when to be silent? How do you know when to maintain a distance when the family needs to be left alone and, yet, to "be there" for them when they need someone to buoy them up?

How do you know when to speak words of encouragement and hope (when, otherwise, the family would be given to potentially needless despair) . . . and when to speak words that communicate about the potential gravity of a situation (lest family members hold out wildly inordinate optimism)?

I am astonished at how the staff of St. Joseph Hospital did all of these things . . . and did them well.

Thank you to all the staff at St. Joseph who touched our family. You have blessed us deeply!
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