This is about bedside manner and it is a true story. It is not a Happy Ending story but a true one that needs to be read by anyone in the health care or healing field.
He—we’ll call him Bill—had been ill for several months with some strange symptoms which progressed rapidly. When he finally saw a physician, he was weak on one side of his body. He was also having trouble swallowing and had twitching muscles all over his body. He was sent immediately to a large neurological center for diagnosis and treatment.
He spent all day being examined in the emergency room, seeing a parade of doctors. After hours of multiple tests, he was finally admitted to a hospital room late in the day—discouraged, exhausted and frightened.
They woke him in the middle of the night for an MRI and a CT scan and he got almost no sleep. The next morning started very early with blood work, more x-rays and a parade of health care professionals. By nighttime he was too tired to eat, and sleep wouldn’t come. No one seemed to notice—or care.
The Worst Bedside Manner on the Planet
The next day the neurologist, considered one of the best of the best, came in with a retinue of residents trailing behind. Chart in hand he looked at this very ill man and said, “Well, we’re pretty confident that you have ALS—that’s Lou Gehrig’s disease. There’s no known cause, no treatment and no cure.” He spoke in Medicalese to the residents—words that regular people don’t understand—and then turned to Bill and asked, “Do you have any questions?” Bill looked at the doctor in stunned silence. He shook his head “no.”
Those of us with Bill were also too overwhelmed to ask anything and the specialist and his charges, with no further comments or dialog, left the room. I was there so I know how it felt. My Masters Degree in Nursing failed me completely. I could not think of one question. I was simply too upset ask an an intelligent questions. Someone very dear to me had just been given a preliminary death sentence.
The neurologist came in again the following day with his parade of residents trailing behind. They talked among themselves, again in Medicalese, like no one else was in the room.
After some time, the doctor said to Bill, “The last test is in and it is confirmed that you have ALS. There’s no cure. Don’t go running around spending your money on exotic treatments and alternative methods because nothing will help you. You can go on home and come back to the ALS Clinic. Do you have any questions?” Not waiting for an answer, he left the room like a duck with his ducklings waddling off behind him.
The doctor delivered the final death sentence without so much as a kind word or gesture.
After the Death Sentence
The hospital staff came and went quickly like they were just too busy to say anything. They must not have known just what to say to a fairly young man who had just been told he was going to die a horrible death soon.
Later in his treatment—a month or two later at the Clinic—this brilliant and renowned doctor said, “I’m really surprised that you are not deteriorating faster.” Bill obliged him and his decline accelerated. Within a month and a half he died in hospice. (The care at Hospice, by the way, was amazingly supportive, loving and compassionate).
The doctor was brilliant. The staff gave the best physical care possible. The bedside manner of both the doctors and the hospital staff scored at Zero!
Attributes of “Good Bedside Manner”
“Bedside manner” is really no more than:
• Common Courtesy
• Showing interest
• Using understandable language
• Perhaps showing compassion
Bedside manner matters. You owe it to your patient to treat him like an intelligent, sensitive, competent human being. It is your job to give him information in a language he can understand. Further, you can give him the bad news without robbing him of all hope and set a stage for either his healing or transition.
Remember that your patient is more than bones, muscles, organs and skin. What impinges on him emotionally, spiritually and psychologically impacts his response to medical care and healing work. Your bedside manner can be used as therapeutically as the prescription pad, the adjustment and the energy work. Put yourself in your patient’s shoes and think about what you would need to know and how you would like to be treated—then your bedside manner will most likely be what it should be.