When I was watching the media coverage of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, I was struck by the significantly different perceptions about the time that has passed since that tragic day. When speaking to several of my friends, many remarked how long ago 9/11 seems and how time has passed to the point, this day of infamy was a distant memory.
But when hearing from those who had been directly affected by the event, those who had lost loved ones, or personally were at Ground Zero, they all commented how it seemed “just like yesterday” and that time seemed to have stopped since that fateful day.
A wife hearing the door open and thinking her husband was walking through it. A son, now grown into a young man, holding four tickets to a Yankees game, thinking in his mind that one is would be for his father, except his father had passed on that day.
The emotional imprint that events have on us and our reflection on these events is so significantly related to how intensely personal our experiences are.
Health care, when we experience it personally for ourselves or for our loved ones, affects us differently than when we provide the care to others. I do not want to minimize the caring and empathy that is a cornerstone of our health professions, but it is not the same. Detached concern for others does not quite carry the same emotional weight. Nor should it.
We may have greater emotional experiences in our caring when we relate to our patients and families through transference of some aspect of our perceptions. Their age or look or background or similarity to us and our lives. But even then, these experiences, no matter how profound, slowly fade to a more distant event in our memory.
I recently talked to one of our long time employees who related the story of our care for her father. She said, “The new DAISY awards currently given to nurses in recognition of their extra care and kindness for patients are well deserved. I’m not sure that those providing the care are aware of the full impact that they have on the lives of their patients and family members. I would like to share with you information from my perspective as a family member as well as a Henry Ford Hospital employee.”
She told me in great precise detail the day her father had open heart surgery, how her heart sunk when she was paged to the cath laboratory as her father clinically deteriorated. The conversations that occurred. An uncaring interaction with a resident physician that devastated her. The clinical details that were hard to follow as a non-clinician. Details of vivid remembrance for the entire episode of his hospital course.
After her father’s death, she returned to work, not knowing how she would feel, returning to the hospital in which stark emotional moments occurred. She again told me in detail, that upon returning to work, the comforting conversation with her father’s internist as well as his cardiologist, the hug she received from one of the CICU workers while passing her in the basement, the outreach by those who cared for him, the feeling that everything done was done for the best.
She related this story to me one month after the 22nd anniversary of her father’s passing. “Just like yesterday.”
You will be remembered for those acts of caring and kindness long after every encounter that you have. And they will carry more effect on others than most of us truly understand.