Daring to care

I awoke this morning with the image of a wartime propaganda poster in my mind’s eye; a picture in a book my sister had when we were growing up.  The poster depicts an efficient-looking nurse with starched bosom pouring water from a glass on to the floor in front of an injured POW as he languishes in pain, hand outstretched.  The slogan reads: “There is no woman in Britain who would do it.  There is no woman in Britain who will forget it”. Now, I’m not comparing what came to light last week with the unspeakable cruelties inflicted by warring factions, but the notion that people in our hospitals are dying for want of a drink provokes anger and shock that is off the Richter scale.  Or at least, it should. And whilst no-one is actually accusing nurses of deliberately ignoring something as basic as a patient’s unquenched thirst; that it’s been happening in the first place should alarm sentient beings everywhere.

Last week with mouths agape we learnt that lest nurses forget, vulnerable patients are to be prescribed drinking water to avoid them becoming dehydrated as they attempt to recuperate in hospital.  Surely being able to recognise and respond to so basic a human need as that for water is a fundamental part of nursing care, if not the most fundamental?  Whatever is going on (or not going on) with their training, clearly a massive disconnect has occurred.  And what exactly are nurses doing that might lead them to neglect those in their care, even inadvertently?  Assembling flat-pack furniture?  Rehearsing for the Bolshoi?  Or nipping to the vending machine for a Pepsi Max?  When I visited an elderly friend in hospital recently, the lady opposite was trying in vain to pour herself a glass of water from a jug that had been left just out of reach.  The ward sister was engrossed in conversation with a colleague, her back to the room so no matter how hard this patient tried to attract her attention, she failed.  Luckily I spotted what was happening (or not happening) and was able to help by a) noticing and b) reacting.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find similar examples; anecdotal evidence fills the tabloids, radio phone-ins and television news.  Almost everyone has a depressing story to tell, some more than one.  Last Christmas a friend was recovering from major abdominal surgery in an ICU and the only way he could get comfortable afterwards was to lie on his side supported by several pillows.  However, it fell to his distressed girlfriend to scour the hospital looking for additional bedding, even accosting a consultant (much to his annoyance) when nursing and cleaning staff proved elusive.  When similar instances arose during her boyfriend’s ten day hospitilisation, more often than not her requests were met with blank expressions; not exactly contempt more the quizzical look of someone to whom the concept of improving comfort was an alien construct.  Lucky for him he had her as a very vocal advocate.  But what of the many who don’t have anyone to fight their corner?  What IS going on?  Why is society seemingly so bereft of commonsense and kindness?

The truth is we live in a society dominated by what psychiatrist Carl Jung described as Thinking types and The Bottom Line.  Institutions such as schools,  hospitals and care homes are not here to make a profit, they are here to provide a service – a vital one – and yet those in charge insist on running them as though they were profit-making ventures – it’s either black or it’s white, no room for grey in their cut and dried world.  To this end, kindness, caring and empathy – qualities which have no immediately discernable monetary value – are all-too often disregarded in the relentless pursuit of cheaper and quicker.  What a false economy it is.  Perversely, the people who display those “soft skills” and who are naturally suited to the “caring” professions are merely tolerated by those in charge of the purse strings.  Generally undervalued, they either crack under the strain of raging against the machine or give up trying to make a difference and move on to another environment, defeated and sad.   Ours is a society where survival of the fittest is paramount, where strength often means brute force, rather than gentle power.

This isn’t to say hospitals can’t be run much more efficiently; I’m not promoting some airy fairy utopia filled with unicorns and rainbows (although I don’t see why not).   A huge saving could be made by firing a legion of over-paid, self-important so-and-sos whose poor decision-making and short-sightedness causes enormous suffering to a great many people.  To me a good hospital manager is someone who rolls his or her sleeves up and wields a mop and bucket when required, not someone who circulates memos about it.  Efficiency and improved patient outcomes could come about if caring and kindness were valued as much as clinical expertise and advancing medical science.   And unlike the latter, caring and kindness don’t come with a price tag – but they do require an investment in one’s own personal development, and emotional intelligence on the part of those doing the hiring to recognise their importance.  The caring process has to begin at the very beginning; by teaching young children how to relate to others, to value themselves and to value others.

Never has there been a better time for The Conscious Feminine to emerge.  A woman who has devoted much of the last thirty years to creating a language and a framework for Feminine Values is Margi Ross.  In her latest book The Conscious Feminine Toolkit [The Conscious Feminine Press, © 2010] Ross explores the many benefits mankind could enjoy if these values were properly integrated into everyday life.  Her earlier publication Making the World a Kinder Place, offers an overview of the Jungian archetypes and in particular the Feeling type and function.  “Feelers order their lives according to the value of relationship”, writes Ross, adding “we live in a world which does not consciously include this way of ordering in everyday life, so we prevent its beauty and sanity from being in life and we injure the feeling type and that function”.  Jung saw Feeling as being just as valid and rational as thinking because it ordered; what Feelers offer is the ability to recognise the impact one’s actions (or inactions) have on others, on animals and the environment, to recognise and sustain relationship, in essence, to preserve and enhance life.

The world Margi Ross describes in her new book is attainable and begins with individuals taking small steps that could make a huge difference to millions of people.  More to the point, it’s essential for the next stage of human evolution and survival.  I’m excited by the prospect and feel it’s no coincidence that this particular episode has now come to light.  Slowly but surely people are finding their voices and speaking their truth, forsaking quiet desperation and talking openly about the sickening abuse and neglect that blights our care homes and hospitals.  The irony that the debate should have started over water will not be lost on Feelers as it’s the element that supports and sustains them both psychologically and spiritually.  Sadly it comes hard on the heels of another disturbing report that an ambulance was denied a police escort through central London while transporting a critically ill man who later died in theatre, despite the valiant efforts of the three-strong team who kept him alive en route from Bristol [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-13508611].  Apparently it’s not Met policy to escort ambulances through built-up areas, even if it means a life might be saved.  “Use your lights and siren, mate.” Again, I ask why?  And why can’t the policy be changed?  I so hope we’re now witnessing the demise of complacency; it might scare some (those whose default setting is to turn a blind eye) but I for one dare to care!







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