Is anybody listening? Under the covers Part 1.

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.turkey-sandwich

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!”. wp_20161025_003-1

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.




4 responses to “Is anybody listening? Under the covers Part 1.

  1. As a nurse and frequent patient it’s an awful shame that so many people don’t truly listen. Not only do they not listen to what’s actually being said, but the hidden and subtle messages that aren’t being said. I think part of the reason is that the healthcare system isn’t made to be focused on overall patient health. Meaning, overall mental and physical patient wellbeing and happiness. Plus the fact that there are numerous staffing issues and healthcare is focused on trying to save money, which I get it’s a business like any other, but at the same time by not listening and paying attention to patients it in turn costs hospitals money. I’m not sure how it is in other countries, but in the United States if a patient gets a hospital acquired infection the hospital has to pay for it because they should’ve prevented it. Same goes with bed sores and wounds. Hospitals try to save money by skimping on staffing, but instead if they increased nursing staffing they would save money by reducing things like hospital acquired infections and bed sores. Just a thought…it’s frustrating being a nurse at times I will admit. I listen to my patients because I’ve been on myself quite often, but it’s frustrating when I often don’t get listened to myself as a nurse. Luckily I am able to advocate for my patients and for myself as a patient. But I know not everyone is able to do that and it’s quite unfortunate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jessica

      Thanks for sharing your experiences too. There were also lots of examples of great care and kindness during my stay…particularly one agency staff nurse who I saw quietly take action in response to his active listening. You’re point about not thinking of the patient as a whole person is key. So much of what didn’t work well need not have cost anything to fix…may well have saved money and improved health outcomes…so why were they not addressed? Such a hierarchical structure and one where most of the worst examples of poor people skills actually came from consultants, certainly did nothing to foster a listening culture.


  2. Ooh, Grrr, your disheartening, perceptive post made me so CROSS, John…’s everywhere. And without being a luddite (well, a bit!) I think a lot of it is down to the fact that we have made communicating with screens primary, rather than communicating with people. From the simplest to the most complex task, anywhere and everywhere. People have to focus on their screens, and it gets in the way of person to person. Of course it is more complex than that, but sometimes it seems that ‘listening skills’ have gone down the toilet, en masse. Of course there are always wonderful individuals, like ‘Val’ whomyou mention, who function like a human, not like a poor robotic wannabe. It was that junior doctor telling you that your own perceptions of how you felt were Nonsense and HE knew you felt better which made me crossest!

    Everything gets so bound up in a fear based procedural culture. Common sense also takes a hike when listening fails to happen


  3. Hey thanks for dropping by and commenting too… (I just stumbled on your prolific blog while trying to find a list of all the animals eaten in ‘The Last Banquet’).

    It feels like we need to rediscover listening but also just being real, connecting as people and speaking in ordinary, plain language. It’s something I’m intending to pay more attention to in 2017.


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