I remember, many years ago, attending with my mum, the breast clinic at a hospital in Glasgow.
We were getting the results of her biopsy.
Although the event was traumatic, the waiting-room sticks out in my mind.
They had a special place for patients to wait for results and an attached corridor and room for the same people after they had seen the doctor; I think this linked with a way to avoid over-distressed people who received bad news intermingling with those who either had been given the all-clear or who were still in the dark.
It was a way of controlling fear and anxiety.
It possibly led to more.
More recently, visiting a stroke ward I reflected on the experiences of patients.
Stroke, still a devastating disease for which although some cutting-edge treatments exist – thrombolysis, embolectomy, for example, most people, who are older, with multiple pre-existing health conditions are exposed to care plans that have not changed in decades, that is scrupulous nursing, intense physio, occupational and speech therapy and, time.
What do you think when you are on the stroke ward, after having experienced what might be considered a relatively mild ‘event’ – say, the power in your hand is lost for a few days, which returns with no complication and the man in the bed facing you has lost all of his speech or his mobility has been wiped-out, requiring hoist transfers, attached to nasal or other forms of nutrition and hydration?
‘There but for the good grace of God, go I?’
Or, is there a deeper defence mechanism which doesn’t even allow for this consideration.
I remember, further back in time as a 16-year-old visiting my grandfather in the now relocated Jewish Old Age Home on Newark Drive in Glasgow.
He, an otherwise fit 80-year-old and I would sometimes sit in the gardens sipping orange juice; was always very cautious about taking me into the dementia section. I can’t actually remember what he said, perhaps something along the lines of, ‘those people,’ in an attempt to separate their needs from his.
At other times we would travel in the lift with colourful characters who could easily have been from Danny’s Deli on the Lower East Side.
Some of this perhaps connects with a deep contagion instinct; stay away from those who are sick as they might pass-on the lurgy.
(I won’t even go-into my experiences of ‘Jew-Bug’ as a child in Glasgow)
Fortunately, in recent years barriers have come-down and there is a better understanding, although it didn’t take long following the outbreak of Ebola for UK society to flip-back.
As a doctor I am somehow immune to this – I think.
I usually stare into the eyes of another person and that tells me all I need to know; any physical, psychological or other impairments fade-away in the moment.
How powerful the images of Princess Diana embracing children back in the 80’s.
Overcoming our own fears, preconceptions and biases is surely a hope for the future as we continue to grow as a community.