Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A good psychiatric hospital experience: part two

Click here to read part one of this two-part series.

The care and company of others

In 2012 I wrote a feature about Fred Lee, an American hospital executive whose insights into the importance of empathy and compassion in hospitals led him to write the bestselling book If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 and a half things your hospital would do differently.

Fred told me “Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the effect of people’s thoughts on their nervous and immune systems, and there is plenty of this research to demonstrate people who perceive genuine concern from those caring from them get better faster, and thus have shorter stays in hospital.”

This insight matches up entirely with my experience. As an inpatient I really appreciated the patience and empathy of the many staff, both clinical and administrative, during my stay. The company of other people admitted for treatment was also a real highlight of my hospital stay. I can vividly recall moments of camaraderie that still give me a warm glow when I think about them.

One such moment was a discussion over coffee I had in one of the cafes nearby the hospital with a new friend sometime midway through my stay. There was an asymmetry to his face because he had a cancer removed from his jaw line and he had subsequently been battling anxiety issues for a number of years. He had a gentle nature and a lisp because of the jaw operation.

It felt like we could have been any two blokes in any city or town chatting things over. I remember it so well because at the time feeling “normal” was a fleeting sensation. It was the build up of little moments like this that led to me gaining confidence in myself again.

The visits I received from members of my family and friends were incredibly important to my recovery and the memories I have of these are powerful and fill me with a deep joy and gratitude. I remember my mum bringing the most remarkable array of water lilies on my birthday (which happened to be the day after my admission to hospital). They meant so much to me.

I thank God for the supportive family and friends I had (and still have) around me. My brother described the situation as a “circling of the wagons” around me to protect and care for me. I love that image.

You can gather from my accounts the many strands that went into the successful treatment of my acute mental ordeal and how they started me on the path to recovery. I think of it kind of like the launch of a space shuttle. Tremendous amounts of energy go into getting that thing off the ground and so many unseen working parts have to work in concert with each other.