"Latex Gloves with Adhesive Bands Around the Knuckles"
Posted Sep 07 2008 8:37pm
by Nick Jacobs
Penn and Teller, magician-comedians, have a cable TV show that basically explores all aspects of life in America with the intention of exposing those areas that are not valid. I'm not sure why the noble bull has suffered this indignity of their show's title, but, when it comes to making fun of the nontraditional, these magic men hold nothing back. They look at topics like integrative medicine, snake charming, and sensitivity training through their sarcastic, unprofessionally trained eyes and do all that they can to rebuke the topics being explored.
Recently, the Sunday New York Times ran a front page article written by John Leland entitled “Fast Forwarding to 85, to Better Aid Elderly.” The primary theme of this piece revolved around a type of sensitivity training for employees and family members that would enable them to grasp the disparaging aftermath that can result from those oft times not so golden years. In this article, Mr. Leland helps us discover the merits of a more humane type of patient-centered care.
Examples used to sensitize the participants included: special glasses that blurred their vision, cotton balls in their ears to lessen the acuity of hearing, and in the nose to cut down on their ability to smell; kernels of dried corn in shoes to accentuate the loss of fatty tissue on the bottoms of your feet, and latex gloves with adhesive bands around the knuckles to simulate arthritis.
They also ask you to make post it notes with your favorite possessions, lists of your favorite friends and relatives, your most cherished freedoms and or past times. Then they compel the participants to give up each of these until there are only two left. This exercise is intended to be representative of the lives of those who end up in some forms of long term care.
Ten or so years ago we embraced a similar program intended to sensitize hospital employees to the trials and tribulations of just being a hospital patient. The full thrust of this program, the Planetree method, was to empower patients, to de-mystify their stay, and to allow them to keep their dignity. This training included blind folding, moving people in wheelchairs, and having one employee feed another. Conversely, it also added loved ones to the mix, gave patients access to their medical records, and even provided them with pajama bottoms to protect their bottoms and their dignity.
Although Penn and Teller may find humor in this type of training, those individuals who have experienced a center that utilizes these techniques, be it Planetree, Eden, or simply a place where, like those philosophies embraced by the Samueli Institute, Optimal Healing Environments exist, patient satisfaction typically can reach into the 98th or 99th percentile. HCHAPS or Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems scores soar into the top 10% nationwide.
So, the title of this piece could easily have been, “It Ain’t Rocket Science,” because it surely is not. It is about drawing attention to other’s feelings, adapting to the needs of those who are at risk or to those who are under an enormous amount of stress. It also, however, is about providing that same level of attention to the employees responsible for the care and nurturing of those patients, clients, and loved ones.
All too often the hospitalization and nursing experiences that we endure often remind me of the late Sydney Pollock’s movie, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” in which Gloria, a young woman of the Depression who has aged beyond her years and feels her life is hopeless, enters a dance marathon. The grueling dancing takes its toll on Gloria's already weakened spirit, and she tells Robert that she'd be better off dead.
There are alternatives to these feelings of hopelessness. If we stop treating our employees and our patients like commodities, and sensitize them to the realities of our patients, we will reap the benefits all around.