The poetry of compassionate care

The delivery of compassionate care begins with empathy, and I’d like to share with you the work of nursing students who clearly displayed their ability to inhabit the lives of the patients in the case studies they were set to consider; they showed that they cared. This display of empathy was particularly heartening from year one students and suggests already a commitment towards the delivery of compassionate care. The students kindly agreed to me publishing their pieces of writing for which they had less than an hour to produce.

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In the first piece of writing Grace Aston and colleagues emphathise with the predicament of the patient’s husband, Bert. They put themselves squarely in his shoes and imagined what he must have been going through when his wife, Winnie, would not wake up, therefore recognising that significant others require compassionate care too:

“This morning I couldn’t wake Winnie. I asked her whether she wanted a cup of tea, but got no response. I shook her but still nothing. I didn’t know what to do.”

In the second piece, Rebecca Soulsby and colleagues imagine not only what the situation must have been like for Bert but for Winnie too and from the point of view of the nurse:

“As the nurse I try to understand
how it must feel to be in no man’s land,
surrounded by strangers who try to be welcoming,
on a ward that is simply overstretched and understaffed.”

Above are snippets of what they wrote; read on for the full versions.

The case: Winnie and Bert

Winnie and Bert have been married for over 60 years and live in Bournemouth with their dog, Hoover. When Bert woke up this morning he couldn’t rouse Winnie so he called an ambulance. She arrived in the Accident and Emergency Department with a suspected stroke and has been transferred to one of the medical wards.

Nurse and patient

Response: Grace Aston and group

“Story 1: Dehumanised

This morning I couldn’t wake Winnie. I asked her whether she wanted a cup of tea, but got no response. I shook her but still nothing. I didn’t know what to do. Winnie was always talking to the neighbours, but I only knew them to wave. I didn’t feel able to go around and ask for help, so I called the ambulance. They were here within minutes, radios beeping, and talking to each other. They didn’t ask me anything, or keep me involved. They just said they were taking her to hospital, not even the name. I was completely in the dark. The phone rang in the afternoon, but I didn’t get to in time. No message was left. The only phone call I received after that was when Winnie passed away, and even then when the phone called ended I didn’t know why.

Story 2: Humanised

“This morning I couldn’t wake Winnie. I asked her whether she wanted a cup of tea, but got no response. I shook her but still nothing. I didn’t know what to do. I rung an ambulance, the operator was so helpful. She explained what I could do to help Winnie, and reassured me that the ambulance was on its way, and she stayed on the phone until it arrived – I instantly felt at ease knowing that help would soon be here. When the ambulance arrived they were calm, talking to me and asking questions about Winnie whilst seeing to her. They explained that she wasn’t well and she needed to go to the hospital. I explained that the dog needed to be looked after, but they said they could sort that afterwards – but it was important that I left with them. When we arrived at the hospital, Winnie was taken away. The nurse came over straight away, concerned for me, and asking if I would like a cup of tea – just what I needed. She sat with me for a while asking me about Winnie, and Hoover. I had completely forgotten about him, but the nurse said she would call the neighbours and get them to check on him, again putting my mind at ease. About an hour passed when a doctor came to speak to me. He explained that Winnie had had a stroke, but was in the best hands. After he left, I wasn’t sure what a stroke was, but the kind nurse who gave me the tea came back and explained in more depth, with a large print leaflet allowing me to make sense of the situation. The nurse also explained the ward layout, and where I could find the toilet. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” she said so gently. She was so kind, and so genuine to me. I don’t know what I would have done without her. After a while, I was told Winnie had been moved to a different ward – again that kind nurse showed me the way to her. She explained that Winnie would be staying at the hospital for a little while, and asked whether I had any support at home. I said that it was just me, Winnie and Hoover, but explained I could cope at home alone. She gave me the number of the silver line – people who would talk to me if I felt lonely at all. I thought that was a nice suggestion, as I knew I would miss Winnie at night. She called me a taxi to get home, and said I was welcome to visit within hospital hours, but could call any time for extra reassurance. The next day I came to visit Winnie, she looked much better. The nurse filled me in on her progress and really kept me involved. I explained all the foods that Winne liked, as she was unable to let them know. I also said how she always liked to have a face of make-up on – so she would appreciate it if they could make her look just as beautiful during her stay – they were only happy to oblige. After a few months Winnie was discharged with lots of additional care in place. The whole process seemed so simple and from the compassion shown to me, it really made the difficult time more bearable.”

Response: Rebecca Soulsby and group

“Winnie and Bert were old and grey,
Bert has been Winnie’s love forever and a day,
They have been together through thick and thin,
Having children was not part of God’s plan
So they depended on each other for everything.

Until one morning life took a turn,
And the devil called stroke arrived at dawn,
In a dark cloud shadowed by doubt,
What will life now be all about?

Now Winnie lies in a bed, I’m holding her hand,
We are surrounded by strangers that don’t understand,
Winnie’s day to day needs, thoughts and wishes,
which included Bert’s daily love and best wishes.

As the nurse I try to understand
how it must feel to be in no man’s land,
surrounded by strangers who try to be welcoming.
On a ward that is simply overstretched and understaffed.

I go and introduce myself and gauge a conversation,
Understanding what makes Winnie tick,
I find that it is the love of Bert and Hoover the Dog,
And their daily living and being together,
How Winnie likes to be washed,
What food she likes to eat,
and most of all how honesty and trust come foremost.

As the carers we make sure Winnie’s needs are met,
Bert is also included and not forgotten,
It is important that we meet both their needs,
Giving lots of care and attention, cup of tea or two
Even a simple “How do you do?”

For every look, hand gesture, bit of conversation
All adds up to the good care and attention
From the nurses to our patients

We have signed up to a moral obligation
To treat our patients, carers and families
To be truthful, honest, respectful and most of all compassionate
To enable us to give the best of our care to our patients
For they are not a number, they are unique.”

These pieces of writing give me confidence that these students are well on their way to being equipped for the delivery of the ‘6 C’s’ by the time they qualify. What do you think?

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