Give your patient a glimmer of hope, please

white flowersDuring my son’s illness … paranoid schizophrenia; we met up with many psychiatrists at the various hospitals and I always felt that both my son and I were being judged. I’d been under the impression that their job was to make their patient feel safe and comfortable even though this is not an easy task.

When his psychiatrist came late for an appointment at the hospital, my son felt that his wellbeing was unimportant to the doctor. Of course there are times when a doctor cannot help being delayed, but it’s not as if he/she was called regularly to the operating theater to perform emergency surgery.

It was so difficult to make contact with my son’s psychiatrist during the many emergencies that had a habit of occurring during weekends or public holidays. So, instead of getting good advice on the phone, we had to take our son to the hospital, and if our son did not comply with the orderly on duty, another one, brandishing a syringe would creep up from behind and deliver a shot into my son’s butt. If we had decided not to take him to the hospital, what could we have done at home? He was tall, strong, and on occasion, frightening. On one occasion, a psychiatrist let slip that the staff had been warned to walk behind my son at all times, yet, they sent him home for weekends to our family consisting of teenage daughters, my husband and myself. A catch-22 situation if I ever saw one. So, what did we do? My husband used his sense of humor whenever possible, and it often worked. I was less able to do this.

At medical school, psychiatrists and psychologists are taught to be ‘rather aloof’ – the only word that comes to mind – well, that doesn’t work for their patients or for their parents. When my son needed to feel that he was human after all, aloofness made him feel alone, lonely and neglected at the very time when he needed to be shown that he was human after all. Can you imagine how it must feel to lose your mind – your sanity?  I can’t.   What am I suggesting? ….I am suggesting that the doctor take care to use an empathetic tone of voice, that the doctor consider putting a hand on his patient’s arm when he is in indescribable distress and most important of all, that the doctor leave any remnant of an argument he/she might have had with a family member before leaving for the hospital. We all  know that  personal issues should never influence professional attitudes. Easier said than done? Yes, I know that. I also know that psychiatrists are only human. BUT, you chose this profession, not me.

Doctor, if your patient is suicidal, this is not an unusual occurrence for you, but, it is to his/her parents so please be generous with empathy when imparting this information to his/her parents. Those parents are going through their own kind of hell due to their child’s mental illness and need tender loving care desperately. My son needed to feel that he was in a safe, friendly environment. Instead, it was frightening.

The patient needs to be informed about any side effects caused by the heavy meds prescribed and if he/she asks about the side effects to their sexuality, the subject should not be avoided.

As parents don’t have the emotional energy to do so, it would be so helpful to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness. You have the wherewithal if you choose to do so.

Last, but not least, give your patients a glimmer of hope p l e a s e.  Nobody can live without hope.



5 thoughts on “Give your patient a glimmer of hope, please

  1. Sara Jacobovici

    Jill, you have spoken volumes, literally. You have also done something that is very rarely done and very difficult to do; you presented the complexity from all sides; many sides that often people choose not to look at or address directly. Everything you are suggesting and requesting is reasonable, in spite of too many rationalizations as to why it wouldn’t be possible to offer what you have asked for. Again, all the power to you for not allowing past experience to silence your on-going commitment to keep asking and to keep expecting. I also just want to make sure that I do acknowledge the few mental health practitioners who have been able to respond and relate to humans who are suffering and their families as humans who are in it for the right reasons. Let’s hope your numbers grow!

  2. Elaine

    I was touched by your post today. I cannot imagine what you and your family went through with little support from doctors and medical staff. Your story, and advice is invaluable to others who may be going through the same experiences, Everyone needs empathy, the patient and the family, but most importantly we all need hope. Thank you for sharing with such honesty.

  3. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.

    Jill – Hello my friend. Your description above is one of the most perfect (if anything can be perfect in this terrible world of mental health we exist in each and every day). I’ve often thought if a doctor or a nurse or even an orderly would use a different tone of voice in speaking with Tom, it would have gone a long way in helping him feel safe and comfortable in his environment. You are so spot on with your observations.
    Do you have special plans for Christmas. My wish, of course, is that you are surrounded by those that love and care for you and once again will find joy in your heart. Know that I love you. Sheri


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