I always said I learned more from patients and their carers than I ever did from bosses in my NHS career.
I am happy to say that learning from patients continues in my new work situation.
Two wonderful and touching examples in the last two days reminded me of this.
On Thursday I spoke to a young man in his thirties (I will call him 'Tom')
We were sharing our mutual love of football. Turned out he was a West Ham fan. I digress…
Tom told me how he had suffered intermittent shooting pains down his leg for a couple of years and had been told it was sciatica. He was on prescribed tablets to reduce inflammation and it seemed to work as he found that whilst taking the tablets the pain eased. When he stopped taking the tablets the pain returned. He played football and when his playing season ended a few weeks ago he decided he didn’t really want to spend the rest of his life on tablets. Tom decided to ask his doctor if there was anything that could be done. His doctor arranged for him to have a scan and it was discovered he had a rare cancer of the spine that needed surgery. Tom was rushed in as an emergency – had major surgery that lasted almost 7 hours - and here he was, back at work less than five weeks after his surgery. Tom told me he hopes to play football again and his doctor has said that should be possible.
Lesson – Respect the health professionals but also look after your own health as well. Always ask questions and don’t necessarily accept the initial diagnosis.
Then on Friday I had another powerful lesson.
I was facilitating a really interesting discussion with a group of 10 members of the public about healthy lifestyles and we were debating the controversial topic of smoking.
There were 3 smokers among the 10 people around my table. Those 3 people were understandably vocal about how everyone has the right to choose whether they smoke or not. And of course most of us agree with individual choice.
One of the other 7 people quietly made a very profound statement that affected us all. He is a man in his 70’s (for the sake of this story I will call him Bill)
Bill said he had given up smoking 40 years ago and we were all shocked when he calmly said, ‘But it was too late. I have cancer.’
Once we had recovered from this shock - and I had allowed the necessary respectful silence having heard Bill’s emotional statement - I decided to ask Bill a question.
I said ‘Bill, thank you for sharing that with us, what advice would you give to anyone who is a smoker?’
Bill replied with just one word ‘Stop’
That is all he said.
Bill's eyes moistened but he held his emotions in. It was enough for us all to know that here was a very strong man who now regrets the damage he had done in his earlier life. He was not looking for sympathy.
40 years ago smoking was not only acceptable – it was positively encouraged through glamorous advertisements.
Lesson - I pray the 3 people who smoked really thought hard about Bill’s experience and his one word of advice.
Real life stories from patients are just wonderful. There simply is no better way to learn about healthcare.
The job description of every Chief Executive in the NHS should contain a REQUIREMENT to listen to patient’s stories. This should be compulsory and regular – a minimum of three personal stories every week.