Children have been on my mind lately. Recently I spent time shadowing our Play Specialists in Kidz First and really was blown away by the work that they do. The team of 12 is dedicated to walking alongside kids during their journey with us, which can often involve traumatic surgery, pain or other unpleasant experiences. Their work is characterized by gentleness, kindness and compassion – all qualities which positively transform the experience of our younger patients.
The stories the Play Specialists told me about their work really were very moving. Like the child who was scared about his upcoming surgery so the Play Specialist sat down with him, and with the help of a teddy bear talked him through what would happen, right down to the drip in his arm. Or the child whose dog had been ‘put to sleep’ weeks before he came into hospital, and was therefore terrified of being ‘put to sleep’ for his operation in case he too didn’t wake up. As you know, children can be very literal so telling them they’re going to get a shot in the arm really can strike fear into their hearts!
These anecdotes really speak to the issue of language and how we talk to one another. Often, we think we are speaking in a way that communicates well but we are actually having entirely the opposite effect, especially when two people’s frames of reference, and how they each see the world, are different. As the Play Specialists demonstrated, the way to get around that is to have the ability, in the moment, to reach out and connect with somebody on their terms. Doing so makes a world of difference to how patients feel about their treatment, whether or not it’s successful and how quickly they recover.
I left Kidz First feeling hugely grateful that we have a team of people who are totally dedicated to the idea of creating compassion and kindness. It was also heartening to talk to the Play Specialists about opportunities to extend this thinking into other areas of our organisation such as with end of life care or working with the frail elderly.
The other interesting highlight from my past week was a meeting with New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills. We spoke in detail about how CM Health might work with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to help lead improvements to child health across the country. He followed this up by sending me an article from The New Yorker, authored by American surgeon and renowned healthcare commentator, Atul Gawande.
The fascinating article talks about how ideas spread and stick to positively change practice. Gawande starts off talking about anaesthesia and sterilisation to avoid post-operative sepsis but the most compelling part of the article for me is the second part where he talks about some work he’s been doing in rural India to introduce good birthing practice that is improving the lives of mothers and their babies without significant costs (and in the face of remarkable odds).
To quote the author himself, the moral of his story is that “people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change”. Change and improvement isn’t about instructing or exhorting people to do better, but about reaching out and working alongside one another, just like Gawande in India and just like our very own Play Specialists in Kidz First.