When I was asked to contribute my thoughts to the concept of being heard and listened to I had just returned home from an unplanned stay in hospital.
During my temporary stay the symptoms of the illness contributed towards an unparalleled personal experience, which illustrated how important it is to listen and hear what is being said.
As the compassionate ambulance drivers safely deposited me in an isolation room I became stunned by an overwhelming deprecation of personal identity, personal rights, sense of worth, dignity, respect and personal space. This feeling stayed with me for several days. Most of the time I literally felt treated like a lump of lard. Invisible, pushed around, not a given a thought, as if I didn’t require the most basic needs or feelings in life.
For several days I lay in a room on my own accompanied by a persistent odour of personal waste, as staff were very busy and changing a commode was very time consuming. I learnt not to mind as I had visited the toilets on my arrival and had to climb over bundles of soiled laundry to use the facilities so I thought myself lucky. No one cleaned my room, nor made or even changed my bed linen. I was embarrassed when I was allowed a couple of visitors, as they immediately set about cleaning up.
Prior to my admission my eyes had become hypersensitive to any form of light, so for the first three days in hospital I was totally without the use of my sight - a whole new life experience, very scary and very lonely. It struck me how loudly people spoke and how often I wasn't told what was going on but others around me were.
I was shocked how those around me seemed to “know what I needed”, even when I expressly said “no” to certain treatments I was astounded that I found myself being pushed into having it not just once but twice. Both occasions were painful procedures that I could barely cope with and shouldn’t have had to.
On top of this I was told to eat a meal served to me which contained meat, yet I have been a vegetarian and on a special diet since the age of 12!!
I asked for help as I struggled to find my water glass and was told "you don't need any help just take the towel away from your eyes and you can do it yourself". .. the towel that was protecting my eyes from the intense light...
I was given a full run down of the different types of rotas each staff group had; the difference between the weekday staff and the weekend staff and how the weekend staff work harder!! The phrases I kept hearing were “that's not our job that's another teams...” “We don't deal with that you will have to ask the other team” etc. All of this and I just wanted some food I could eat.
The life on this particular hospital ward was, as one of my visitors stated, worse than being in prison! It was like being on a conveyer belt going 100 miles an hour and if you fell off it took ages to get back on again. If you asked for anything that wasn't at hand or simple to do it took forever to happen and invariably I had to ask more than 3 times and more than one person.
I learnt the required patient survival culture very quickly; one of “lay still, say nothing, agree to what is said to you and hope you get it as quickly as possible - don’t complain". I learnt this despite having been told by the sister that "we are here to help you" and that none of her patients complained.
On my second morning I laid still so as not to ruffle anyone's feathers. Five staff congregated in the corridor and proceeded to hold a 50 min demolition meeting of the NHS as their employer saying what they thought of it all. They had forgotten I was just the other side of the wall and could not only hear, but understood what they were saying as they ruthlessly tore apart and slated the very organisation that was supposed to be looking after me!
I found myself with tears on my pillow thinking what a mess. Why on earth would anyone be as devaluing as to work for an organisation if you don't respect nor engage with it?? How shallow and empty must such a person be to be like that?! If they are not happy then they should leave, not use their paid working time to do their moaning, especially in front of the customers ... how insulting!
Throughout the day I found no matter what I did my voice wasn't listened to nor heard at all. The whole experience became too much to handle and was not helping my recovery
I found my pillow now sodden with tears when a quiet voice said “please can I change your pillow to make you more comfortable?” Out of all the rushing, banging, shouting, blaming, etc. I heard a voice I could trust. It was a voice that had not only been listening to me but had actually heard me. It was so gentle yet so powerful and strong to me the consumer.
As time went on I became aware of a few others who offered similar care and comfort. Sadly they were not in the majority but these nurses and porters were just what I needed; all of them loving their jobs and the organisation.
The anguish, pain and suffering I endured on that ward was not at all down to these competent committed people, but the other team members who were clearly not engaged; Doctors, Housekeeping Staff and Nurses who did not listen to or hear me. It explained to me why sometimes the competent nurses could not remember everything they were supposed to do... It was as if their energy was stolen by the negative noise around them.
When I was told I was to be moved to a more specialist ward I became very fearful as I had no energy left. My friends had tried to talk to the medical and management staff to no avail and this left us all feeling seriously worried that I was going to be made to have yet another intolerable procedure.
As late in the evening as it was at this point I felt so desperate and helpless I called an advocate. I needed someone to listen and hear what was going on; I needed help. I just couldn't go through the whole process of losing more self-confidence and feeling frightened again in another ward...
Cutting a long event short, it worked. I was listened to and heard first time. I moved and guess what, all my fears were dispelled. On the new ward, all the staff including the non-nursing and the Doctors were marvelous and yes they were all engaged in helping every person, working together and believing in their organisation. Not only did they listen to their patients, but clearly heard each one of them and were seriously able to help us get better much quicker: They were an amazing team of people.
They were well presented in appearance as well as practice, the environment was kept clean, tidy and well disciplined. What a total contrast and yet they dealt with much more severe cases than the previous ward had to handle.
This experience has REALLY shown me that both "being listened to and being heard" as well as "Listening to and hearing others" represent essential competencies for us all, to ensure our customers receive an engaging, committed, satisfying, trusting, rewarding experience and team service ... without it comes fear, distrust and misery.
I was the lucky one as my experience only lasted a week. So many people are not listened to or heard across their whole lifetime. What amazing courage such people must have to cope.