Jam and Language

Today we became experts in posing for photographers. We indulged ourselves in selfies and group photos after a long climb to Bear Creek Falls. Every possible angle and view to capture such a singular moment was explored.

I was reminded in these moments of the “Shirtless Dancing Guy” video we watched the first day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ  One person has an idea, and others jump in, sparking a movement. It’s our way of saying to each other, “Hey I like your idea, let me try it out.” One of my peers would creatively pose in a rock garden and I would want to try it out. I would adopt a meditative pose in front of the falls and some others would follow suit.

We are already starting to practice what we are being taught: respecting each other and adopting ideas. (Not just photo poses of course).

 

Today I have to include a powerful subject from yesterday, so profound yet simple it deserves its own space here. In short, jars of jam.

Jars have labels so we can identify what they contain. Cherry. Apricot. Blackberry. It’s clear cut and simple. No question what is inside. Let’s apply that to a person whom you have never met or barely know. Smart. Goofy. Uncooperative. Difficult. No question who they are inside.

 

I think you can see the problem.

 

When we hear these words from others and take them as absolute truth, when we share those words, we are actually clouding someone’s perspective. And we perpetuate it. One person tells five others who each tell three others, etc.

“Don’t spend too long with that patient, they always have something to complain about.”

“That patient is whiny and difficult.”

And we take those labels and unthinkingly place them on patients’ foreheads when we walk in the door and introduce ourselves.  Now the whole unit knows that the patient is difficult. I wouldn’t bring up the mention of language and how spoken word travels if it were not tied to a medical error. It makes sense that the immediate way in which we let words shape our view of a person dictates how we approach them.

 

“If people tell me you are unintelligent, I’m going to talk down to you.”

“If people tell me you are a difficult patient, I’m going to deflect most of your concerns.”

Language influences a patient’s care.

 

In its most dangerous form, clinical labeling without reflection is disastrous. The wrong mental status descriptor can lead to a wrong diagnosis and course of action that snowballs. The clinician sees the patient through that incorrect label and without thinking heads down the wrong path.

If a clinician is told a patient is difficult, they will not be mentally geared towards understanding that patient because they see every question or concern as a confirmation of this label.

This is not just a matter of using the correct jargon in your H&P. It’s a matter of recognizing that as health professionals we owe our patients an open mind. People label, it’s human nature. But just because we are handed a label by others doesn’t mean we need to paste it on its target.

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