Being aware is one of the first lessons in patient safety.
Awareness of self, of environment, of our patients; so often we walk around with our head in clouds of worry and thought, so called, mind-wandering – thinking about the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, what others think, what I thought.
A jumble of misremembered ideas is not a place to be when caring for the vulnerable and sick.
The image of a stone dropping into a still pond is sometimes used to represent Mindfulness, the ripples representing thoughts that disturb the calm but soon settle, leaving nothing behind.
When we work in a clinical environment, our minds have to be like that pool of water; we need to be relaxed and able to respond to the signs and symptoms of our patients, whether they are explicit in someone asking for help, pressing a buzzer or climbing out of bed, or more subtle – someone who is off-colour, who has marginally deteriorated, a gait that is very slightly altered.
Doctors, nurses and therapists have to be aware of all that is going on around them – this is especially relevant on my ward, where patients who often experience confusion and disorientation are not able to fully represent themselves; they are not fully cognizant of their surroundings and the associated hazards, the potentials to slip, trip or fall.
We, the care staff, must assume the responsibility for our patients; we must be able to function for ourselves and for others.
This is the essence of Mindfulness.
Daily practice in Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to increase an individual’s ability to focus, to concentrate, to steer-clear of distractions that could pull us away from our goal.
Mindfulness Meditation differs from traditional Buddhist meditation in that it seeks to support people to become aware of their thoughts, to acknowledge the distractions that beset us all, and through practice, gain control. There is no forcing or fixation on a specific idea or belief, the goal is to allow the ripples in our lives to settle, to attain stillness.
Once that stillness has been achieved, we can focus on others, we can hold a mirror up to the world outside and offer ourselves, wholly, provide care and service to our patients that is not a quarter or a half of what we are able, but a one hundred per cent commitment to care and an appreciation of the precariousness, and wonder of our work – safeguarders of others.