I was really looking forward to the first World Day of Listening on October 21st. It was to be a chance for individuals and groups from around the world to put the act of listening centre stage…to give people the chance to really listen to each other…to really be heard.
As luck would have it I found myself in hospital for lengthy surgery and spent most of the day itself in a rather drugged up post-operative state, feeling sorry for myself.
I’d jokingly put up an out of office message saying that I was going to do some under cover research into the NHS. I thought I’d missed out on World Day of Listening but as I lay in bed for the next few days almost all I could do was listen…and watch. It was fascinating.
On 3 separate forms I’d completed a section asking if I was vegetarian (I am). I was asked again when giving my menu choice for each meal. Yet I still received a turkey sandwich one lunchtime and a steak and kidney pie for dinner. I couldn’t understand how no one seemed to have listened to what I’d said about something so basic.
But the longer I spent at the hospital the more I realised that it wasn’t just me who wasn’t being listened to. There was a whole culture of not listening that seemed to run through the hospital.
One lump or two? Four times each day the same lady pushed a drinks trolley onto our ward. Each time she asked the man curled on the bed opposite me how many sugars he wanted in his tea. He was a diabetic. In the end it became a little ritual. She would ask him how many sugars he wanted and the other two patients and I would chorus “he’s diabetic!”.
You don’t want to do that. A wonderful Domestic came to our ward each day. She had a fabulous smile and applied herself with incredible diligence to keeping the place spotless. When the chap in the bed next to me was wheeled away for a scan she took the opportunity to lie on the floor and give the underneath of my bed a thorough clean. We chatted as she worked and found that we both had daughters studying Psychology a university. She told me how working in the hospital was a vocation. She woke up one day and decided to give up her office job and work in a hospital. The only thing that frustrated her was that no one listened when she said she loved her job. Everyone at the hospital thought she should ‘get on’ and train to be a health care assistant or a nurse.
No idea. Val was a wonderfully observant and attentive health care assistant. She was as kind and caring with a charming 84 year old patient who’d had a stroke as she was with a 30-something ‘geezer’ who was rude, aggressive and recovering from a base ball bat attack from his drug dealer (I couldn’t help over hearing his numerous telephone conversations). I commented on something that didn’t work well one day and Val told me all about a great solution she’d seen at a hospital in Nottingham. “You should tell someone about that here” I said. But she said she’d given up sharing ideas as the doctors and managers were either not interested in new ideas or failed to implement them properly.
Secret agencies. Lots of the nursing staff I met were from agencies. So I took the opportunity to ask them why they worked for an agency. The same answer again and again…it gave them more control. Bobbi told me that she had got fed up of not being listened to by managers when she said she didn’t want to do extra shifts; that she wanted to spend time with her kids, recover so she could do a good job next time she was at work.
Doctor knows best. I asked if I could try some different medication to help with my nausea. The junior doctor gave me something else but if anything it made me feel worse. The next day when he asked how I felt I told him. “Nonsense, you feel much better now” he replied.
Bedside manners. One day a whole doctrine (look it up!) of doctors stood at the end of my bed and talked about me. A junior doctor started to tell the group about my case. The consultant swept his arm down and said “enough!”.
As I prepare to return to work tomorrow I hope I can keep my hospital experience fresh in my mind. I want to notice how well my colleagues at Bromford listen to each other and to those they work with and for.
I’m ever so slightly nervous.