Today’s Star Columnist: Dr Mary Wren

Dr Mary Wren has worked in Sheffield for 20 years. She offers advice on health issues every Saturday.
Dr Mary Wren has worked in Sheffield for 20 years. She offers advice on health issues every Saturday.

Recently I went to visit a friend in hospital. She had been in for 2 months and had been seriously ill, including having a cardiac arrest. This friend is young and has had many hospital admissions over the past few years. While there, another lady came to visit. She too is young and has had a brain tumour requiring surgery and other treatments over the past four years. She is now registered blind.

There was some interesting conversation around what it is like being a patient-especially when you know more about your condition and your body than the medical staff do! Both women are well read, intelligent, strong and courageous. Both have an amazing sense of humour which seems to have carried them through difficult situations. They both spoke highly of so many staff in the Health Service who listened, cared and often gave above and beyond what was expected. It was often small, seemingly irrelevant things like a smile or a few minutes to listen that made the difference.

However they had also both had some unfortunate experiences through the years. They talked about doctors who think they know everything and don’t really listen, doctors who “play God” and doctors who seem more interested in the fascinating illness or research than the patients. I also heard about staff who talked down to them or over them-as if they weren’t there. It seemed that some forgot the patient has had many years of living with their condition and so know their bodies well. Then there are those who are not willing to think outside the protocol and box that they know, who forget that this is a unique person. None of this was discussed in anger-rather in sadness that the person inside the broken body could be forgotten.

I came away feeling encouraged and challenged by these extraordinary women. Laughter and humour are so important for health and recovery. The patient often does know best-especially when they have long term conditions and it is possible to have hope and a full life - even in a hospital bed. I was also reminded to listen well, take time, keep hope, speak truth, have fun, be imaginative, laugh alongside, always respect and never judge. There is more to life than we think.