Thoughts on #hellomynameis...
The man in the corridor was in a hurry. As he approached us, he recognised me as the daughter of the lady who had been admitted the previous evening with a severe brain haemorrahge. Next to me, my sister, who had just arrived at the hospital, having travelled up from London overnight, was pale and shaking. As he passed us, he spoke to her.
"Are you Olive Fraser's daughter from London?
"Just to let you know, your mother's not for resuscitation." And with that, he carried on down the corridor.
My sister leant against the wall and cried. "Oh, my God. I'm too late. She's dead." Then she added, quietly, "Who was he?"
My sister is not medical so, understandably, assumed that anyone needing resuscitation would be dead. I put my arms around her and quickly explained that Mum hadn't died but that, due to the severity of her head injury, and coupled with her other on-going conditions, the night before the consultant had advised me that he thought it was kinder not to resuscitate her should she have a cardiac arrest. But, I reassured her, if she survived for the next couple of days, there was a chance that, in time, she could recover enough to have a reasonable quality of life.
It wasn't a great reassurance but it was the most positive thing I could find to say at that terrible time. A busy doctor had left her shattered and, as he raced along the corridor, he hadn't thought to stop and introduce himself to a very fraught relative.
The 'Hello my name Is... ' campaign, created to help medical staff remember the importance of introducing themselves at the start of every consultation, has had enormous impact. Started in 2013 by Kate Granger, a doctor and a terminally ill cancer patient, her determination to make a difference was triggered by the horror she felt about the number of hospital staff who treated her without offering her that very basic courtesy.
The idea has touched and influenced hundreds of thousands of people in health and beyond. It's far more than remembering that simple phrase. It is about changing a culture where everyone is so busy and fraught that they simply forget the simple things that are so important
Last week, Kate challenged her followers to tell her how successful the campaign had really been following evidence that for some, despite wearing the badge, they still forget to introduce themselves before starting a treatment.
Sadly that will always happen. Things never change for everyone overnight. But, for the vast majority who have learned of her simple, yet poignant, mission to alter the way medical staff think, the effect has been astonishing.
Change frightens most of us and, sometimes, causes anger and irritation too. It is generally safer to stay the same. Moving house, the first day in a new job, starting a new relationship can all be exciting but also very scary. There is risk involved in anything that changes the status quo. Change means saying to yourself that the way it was before may no longer be the best way. In other words, altering things could, with effort, make life better for you and those around you. So it can be very hard to be a campaigner and you will never, ever please, or change, everyone. No one ever has. Remembering that is very important.
Often, the courage to make a difference is often borne out of anger. Seeing what is wrong and how it has hurt you, and others, makes you strong enough to bear the pain you feel when someone rejects your new idea. You may feel damaged when those around you tell you that you could have done things differently or that your obsession is taking over your life. But your fury at how things were, drives you on, whatever obstacles are put in your way. For those like Kate Granger, strength comes from the support they get from the people they most respect. People who believe in you and champion your attempts to do your best to make life better for others.
So, I felt both immensely irritated and mildly amused by the doctor who recently treated my husband and whose blunt opening line was "Hello my name is ....... and I'm a consultant gastroenterologist so, now I've got that over with, let's move on,"
Yes, he was rude and, I have no doubt, felt far too important to have to introduce himself. But, at least we knew his name and his role and that made a difference to us. So, in some small way, the campaign had made an impact on someone who truly didn't want to change. And that made me smile.
In reality, it is so sad that the campaign is necessary. I passionately believe that few, if anyone, decides to work in health without wanting to do the best possible job. But huge pressures to be perfect and never make a mistake, despite chronic staff shortages and an ever growing number of rules, have been overwhelming and make people behave in a way that doesn't make them, or anyone whose lives they touch, feel proud.
It's easy to say that everyone should be calm, bright, smiley and efficient at all times. Oh how I wish it could always be that way. But, surely, we all know times when life's pressures are so great that the tiniest things can tip you over the edge and make you feel stressed and angry, especially when you are trying so hard to do your best.
I can remember one Christmas Eve when our children were small. Stressed in the kitchen by a large unstuffed turkey, angst-ridden about the few unwrapped presents still on my bed, and exhausted by over-excited offspring failing to go to sleep, when my husband poked his head round the door, a large glass of wine in his hand, and told me to 'chill' and come and join the extended family in the lounge by the fire, something snapped. So desperate to get it all right and failing at every turn, my desperate expression was more despair than anger. He retreated at speed. Poor man. I should have been warm and welcoming and brimming over with festive cheer. It had been a difficult year and I so wanted to be the deliverer of the perfect Christmas. When I couldn't do it, it made me feel worse than ever. I didn't want to be negative, I simply felt hopeless. And that, I believe, is how some of the best hospital staff feel when they try to do their best but, under enormous pressure, they simply can't and, in doing so, let themselves and their patients down.
The tens of thousands of people who have signed up to Kate's campaign know she's right. But, although there are those people who simply don't think, the best people never mean to forget to introduce themselves, they are simply too anxious to remember. They are the ones who are grateful to be prompted by a campaign, as demonstrated by some of the most senior medical staff in the country who now wear their badges and lanyards with pride.
For others it is a harsh reminder that they needed to change their attitude. That, contrary to their belief that everyone would automatically know who they are, in reality they didn't. That is a harder pill to swallow.
Wearing seatbelts in cars, not smoking in public buildings, respecting a person's colour, gender and disability have all been helped by relentless campaigning that many, at the time, said was overdone. But the results speak for themselves. We do 'belt-up' in cars, public buildings are now smoke-free and, certainly in Britain, there is now huge importance placed on equality and diversity. It's not perfect, but we owe huge thanks to those who took the first brave steps to make those differences.
And, as for that fraught doctor who so upset my sister? When I spoke to him, he broke down. Exhausted and with far too much responsibility on his young shoulders, he simply didn't think. Perhaps, if he had been taught to recognise the immense value of stopping for two minutes to introduce himself to fraught relative, he might also have taken a moment to think about the impact of what he was going to say next.
Kate, despite the immense difficulties she faced, found the time to create an idea that has made us all think. Her message is gloriously simple and, in doing so, has improved the lives of countless people, not just for now, but forever.