Take the case of BJ Miller, who lost three limbs in an accident during college and now works as a hospice physician in San Francisco.
“More than MRIs, more than ventilators, more than expertise, it is empathy that heals,” he told the nearly 2,000 attendees at our 17th Annual Kenneth B. Schwartz Compassionate Healthcare Dinner last Thursday night, adding “This is not just a matter of bedside manner. This is essential. Honor compassion. Make it real. Make it the standard of care.”
He related the story of a woman who arrived at UMass Memorial Medical Center with a mound of paperwork documenting multiple hospitalizations and numerous tests in a search for the cause of a two-year history of severe abdominal pain.
“One look at her and the words ‘you are in pain’ jumped from my mouth,” John said. “She raised her eyes to meet mine, nodding slightly acknowledging my remark. I asked ‘What position is most comfortable for you?’ And then I moved my chair so she could lie down.”
“When did it begin?” John whispered. “When he died,” she replied softly.
It turned out that her husband had died unexpectedly two years before, but no one had thought to ask her about it. “There was no need for further testing,” John told the audience. “All she needed was a compassionate listener. With further counseling, her pain resolved.”
How has compassionate care made a difference in your life or in the lives of the patients and families you care for?