Saturday, 24 May 2008

Drip feeding

If this blog's been a little quiet lately, it's largely because just over a week ago John decided it was time to take the whole much-discussed business of integration to a new level by getting himself admitted to hospital. And just to make sure he did things properly, he started by trying out SAMU (the emergency services), followed by a few hours in Urgences at our local hospital and then an ambulance transfer to the neurosurgical unit one of the big teaching hospitals in Toulouse. It seems that he had a small brain bleed, which rendered him utterly exhausted for several days but fortunately doesn't seem to have left any obvious lasting effects.

Now you need to understand here that John (like me) doesn't do hospitals. Unless, that is, you count being on the other side of the bed, as it were - in a past life he spent many years working as a hospital social worker in the West Midlands. And the whole episode (he's still in there - more on that in a minute) has been a huge cultural shock for both of us. The biggest shock has been to find ourselves within - and, increasingly, up against - an enormously authoritarian, heirarchical and paternalistic system. Communication, treatment options, care plans ... nah. Stuff is done to you, not alongside you. There's no question of partnership between patient and staff. To begin with, I thought it was perhaps because John's level of French is still hovering around that of a 10 year old, but no ... having spent a lot of time talking with other relatives and partners on the unit I realise that it's The System. John's room-mate's daughter (are you keeping up here?) was so incensed by the whole lack of communication over her father that she actually brought her own GP along with her on Friday, but even he had a really hard time ...

It's pretty hard for a pair of person-centred therapists to witness and experience the way persons are treated routinely not as persons but as objects, without any awareness that there could be another way. And let's face it, when you're confined to your room, your clothes have been removed and you're wearing a paper hospital gown and paper knickers, you begin to feel so depersonalised and humilated anyway that it's pretty hard to advocate for yourself, however assertive and powerful and/or bolshie you might be in your 'other' life. The System drips powerlessness into you like - well, a drip. I talked to a friend and neighbour about all this yesterday, and she (a strong, feminist-minded, independent woman) admitted that she has always shrunk like a violet when faced with the medical system.

John is still in hospital; his scans haven't shown up any causal factors for the bleed. He's not in pain or danger (apart from from the food. But we won't discuss that). He has to have another MRI scan next week to see if anything more has become apparent; in the meantime, we wait. My tactic for trying to deal with the whole scenario is to act as if it's possible to work in partnership with and to form relationships with the staff, by trying to enter into dialogue with them. My aim is to set up a kind of reverse drip-feed, where what's being 'dripped back' is the possibility of seeing the humanity in their patients. I'm not daft or deluded enough to think I'm going to change The System, but as Gandhi said, you need to "be the change you want to see in the world".

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