Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, John Lennon sang this in 1980 in ‘Beautiful Boy’, which featured in his Double Fantasy album. Listening to it brings back memories and feelings of my life in the 80’s (a desultory Glaswegian schoolboy).
I was thinking about this song on Friday when I was discussing ‘Mindfulness and Patient Safety’ at the Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Collaborative conference in Leeds.
Sometimes the world seems so slow to learn, to develop and progress – 35 years ago, John Lennon was singing about the rush, the chaos, and the madness of life that prevents us from experiencing the richness of our experience. This is probably truer today than ever, and working in the NHS, although I guess, pretty much any health, social care setting, business or organisation, the speed of change, the interconnectedness of life has helped this along.
In a course I am currently attending, run by the London Based King’s Fund, we discussed this aspect of our lives – the reality that we have somehow been forced to evolve from ‘Human Beings’ into ‘Human Doings’, in the latter, every moment of our days occupied by activities.
I find myself walking between meetings and checking my email, I drive to work in the morning and school children are walking, their mobiles held up to their faces; Reading emails, Tweets, News items, that pop onto my screen, sets off a rush of ideas and recollection, thoughts about what I should and could be doing. I buy lunch and eat it sitting at my desk, the taste secondary to the necessity of something to keep me going.
And, probably, worse of all, I return home and instead of joining-in family life wholly and completely, for much of the time I am somewhere else, whether planning tomorrow, calculating what to cook for dinner, which jobs need doing, when to book holiday, when to go shopping, when to tidy, when to organise, and round and round.
Those plans, whether at home or at work are what pull us away from the richness of everyday experience. It is ironic that the current rush for people to own an HD (?4K)television, to allow immersive life-like images of TV shows in our living rooms, is happening at the same time we are experiencing a diminished connection with life, as if, the haze that surrounds us, of doing, or rushing about, stops us getting an accurate image of who and what we are, where we are, and only after we have tuned our TVs can we get a processed version of experience.
Patient Safety, or more commonly, patient harm, happens when things go wrong, when doctors, nurses or others forget to order tests or wash their hands or complete documentation; when surgeons operate on the wrong side of the body, or antibiotics are given to people with allergies; when things go wrong. We are all prone to error, to mistakes, and the more we are distracted, the less we are present in the moment, present and engaged with the sometimes incredibly detailed and demanding tasks we perform daily in hospital and in life in general, the likelihood of error increases.
There is a belief that it doesn’t matter if, when driving along the motorway, our focus is elsewhere, that our unconscious minds are so proficient at organising and interpreting perception and data that we are fine; this is often not the case and distraction, lack of focus and concentration, as happens when we are tired, is often the cause of mistakes, errors, when we don’t see what is in front of us and things happen, such as life.