Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What Kind of Work Do You Do?

At a recent backyard party a friend asked me what kind of work I do. I have grown to dislike that question since there seems to never be an easy or comfortable answer. “I am a patient advocate” I told her. “I teach families and friends to help the patient”. I quickly corrected myself “I am a patient safety advocate”. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t leading her to believe that I am teaching bathing the patient, bandage changes or encouraging the family to go to the hospital and sit quietly in a corner waiting for the doctors "orders".

When my friend asked me why I did this, “was there a personal experience”, I felt my body tense as if to say why does there need to be a reason? It is a good and noble cause. It is very much needed but not taken seriously as a profession. If there has to be a reason, than it is something I want to do like a hobby. It is much more than a hobby. Why did I need a reason?

In this case our friendship grew in other areas and I realized there was never a reason for her to know exactly what I do with my time. Or, just as important why I got involved. So I began my elevator speech about the need for patient safety education and finished with a brief explanation about my sons death because of his medical treatment. When I paused ready to receive questions, I saw the pain in her eyes as she lifted herself out of her chair reached over and hugged me and said “I am so sorry, I didn’t know”. We continued our afternoon together but all along I felt sorry for her, as I do the others – who don’t know yet just how scary and dangerous a hospital is.

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