We recently received a story highlighting what happens when a caregiver does what it takes to really “hold” someone in her care. At Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Michigan, a recent rise in teen suicide attempts has been met with a new kind of curiosity—one that has been actively cultivated in the staff. This story comes from an ER nurse:
I recently had a teenage child admitted with a drug overdose after attempting suicide. It seems like we have had an epidemic of these patients, every week admitting 1 or 2 children with this diagnosis. Some staff members seem to become resentful to these kids, assuming that they are over dramatic and making stupid decisions. (There may be some truth in that, but there is always a whole lot more to the story than what you see in front of you!)
This particular girl arrived to the unit acting out—belligerent in her behavior and language. She was placed in 4 point restraints while in the ECC for fear that she might harm herself or others.
After attending a recent See Me as a Person Workshop, I decided to wonder about this young girl: What was happening, and why was she behaving the way she was? I sat with her and spoke directly to her, allowing her the opportunity to yell and swear while I maintained my composure and just listened.
After a short time, and once she realized that I was no threat to her, she calmed down, and we were capable of having a real conversation. I was able to remove the four restraints with a mutual understanding that she would cooperate with the care we were providing.
Before attending the workshop, I would likely have left her in restraints and wanted to “get in her face” to redirect her behavior. I really see the benefit of taking the time to understand the patient and to gain their confidence and respect to help manage her care. What I learned in the workshop sure made life easier in the long run that night!
While this nurse doesn’t talk directly about a change in her “default” behaviors, that is in effect what she’s talking about. Her old default would have been to “get in her face,” and thanks to the time she had spent learning about, discussing, and reflecting on the See Me as a Person practices of attuning, wondering, following, and holding, she has found herself with a new default: she is now fascinated by the people in her care. She is curious. She knows that there is a backstory, and that whether she learns it or not, there is a reason for the person’s behavior. She also understands that part of that person’s healing is likely to be that she is seen, heard, and received without judgment by another human being.
When you know and are committed to using the See Me as a Person practices, you have the ability to receive the person you’re caring for without judgment. In the instance of a suicide attempt, medical treatment can address the physical ramifications of the attempt, but the physical ramifications are typically only a small fraction of the problem. Because the person is probably also suffering from a sense of isolation and hopelessness (and/or a host of other mental/emotional/spiritual woes), it is largely in the relational care of the patient that some healing of the root cause could take place.
For years, the experience of receiving good relational care was left to the luck-of-the-draw. You might, if you’re lucky, get a caregiver who is willing to connect and knows how to do it. In cultures like the one at Covenant HealthCare, the odds are much better, however, that everyone walking through their doors will receive good relational care. For the past two years, Covenant has embraced the See Me as a Person practices. They have offered the workshop to their staff in all disciplines, and they have transformed their culture to one in which curiosity replaces assumptions, people are seen, people are heard, and people feel held.
We are always gratified to hear stories like the one sent to us by this devoted ER nurse. It is an honor to help caregivers in all disciplines to provide superior relational care, with greater consistency and mindfulness, to the patients and families they serve.