By Priscilla Soucy and appearing in Hartford Heartline, January, 1999
What motivates a person to become a Mended Heart visitor? What is it like, walking into a hospital room and seeing in bed a pre-op patient who perhaps faces the same surgery you have had? Does it seem strange or uncomfortable since you have never seen this person before in your life? The following scenario is an example of a hospital visit.
As you enter the room, you immediately know you share something with this person. You're sharing the same experience. Often the patient may be in the same room or the same bed you were in; he or she may be the same sex, and age, and have a worried spouse like yours sitting close by. Memories may pour into your mind as you have a flashback. You may look into the patient's eyes and see the raw fear, uncertainty, and overwhelming sense of being vulnerable, and human, that you also experienced.
As you begin to talk with the patient, your one goal is to relieve this patient of some anxiety and worry. In most cases, you know you can accomplish this with just a little time and the ability to listen. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. points out the importance of listening in his recent book, "Worry." He writes, "a worried person needs - first of all - to be heard." Many well-intentioned people make the mistake of jumping in too soon with reassurances and suggestions. Hallowell said, "The worried person can't make use of the suggestions and reassurances until he has had the chance to come out with what is on his mind. Good advice for the listener is, don't try to fix the problem; just listen to it." This advice can be very effective for a visitor.
Dr. Hallowell continues, "You speak...I listen...I take in what you say. You sense me holding your feelings. This causes you to feel relief because you feel heard, understood, and supported. If there is one first step he recommends to diminish worry, this is it: tell your concern to a good listener. Connect. Even if you get no solutions, it's okay. Solutions are overrated and good listening is a godsend!"
As visitors, we cannot give medical advice, but we can talk of our own experiences and we can listen. When a patient starts pouring out what he experienced before the decision to have surgery, you can often see him relax and feel relieved to discuss it. He may tell you in minute detail everything that has occurred medically. He looks at you and knows you understand because you've been there. You may share some of the events that happened to you and he may nod as a bond forms between you. That is the time to offer reassurances and instill confidence in the benefits of surgery.
Patients see that you are well and healthy. You are totally honest with them and they sense this immediately. You are not rambling on with words that contain empty meaning. You are sincere and he knows it.
When you get ready to leave, many patients will say "thank you for stopping in" or "I'm glad we had a chance to talk." Often you see the worry lines turn into smiles. Your mind and heart tell you this is right. Now you know why you are a visitor... You received your reward. You may have made a small change in their thinking, possibly they are feeling less stress, less sadness, and a little more at ease, No matter what happens you have connected and tried to reach out to smother some of the patient's fear and pain. This is what motivates a Mended Heart visitor, and you will be one as long as you are able.
Dr. Edward Hallowell wrote the book "Worry" [Controlling it and using it wisely.] Dr. Hallowell is a psychiatrist and lectures at Harvard Medical School. Information about his book was available through our National Mended Hearts online newsletter and can be purchased at local bookstores. Permission to reprint excerpts obtained from Dr. Edward Hallowell.
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