04 May Straight Outta Southport
Remember your first comm skills session? The brief was: “Have a conversation”.
I didn’t think this would be a problem. I’m generally pretty chatty (sometimes to the grandest of degrees if there’s food involved). But I got into the double mirrored room and had 7 pairs of eyes looking at me like the guy in YOU looks at Beck through her apartment windows (must watch, would highly recommend, but watch with your curtains drawn). It was pretty much the worst conversation I’ve ever had in my life to anyone.
The constant stream of thoughts in my head was the most annoying part. I was so nervous and had no way of stopping them.
“Omg that question wasn’t open enough”
“Omg did you just nervous-giggle? The SP literally just told you her husband died”
“I need to pee, shouldn’t have had that cold brew”
“What’s the first P in SOCRATES PP again?”
“Damn still need to pee”
How was I ever going to take a proper history from a patient without looking like a constantly hungry fool with an exceptionally small bladder? More importantly, how was I going to show the empathy that people deserve when I couldn’t even get out of my own head? I couldn’t even do this to a fake patient, let alone a real one.
Flash forward one year…
Has anyone else been a victim of the new-ish Southport area street parking changes? It’s literally such a nightmare. I have had to park my car on the one street that has free parking in order to take the tram to and from my house.
I was pretty much in my pyjamas, eyes burning from reading “unprofessional conduct” for the 35832th time in the QCAT assignment. The tram was making that squeaky sound on the metal bits which did not help the QCAT trauma inflicting pain on my soul- a new pain pathway. That should be added to the L.O’s.
I sat across a lady who seemed to be in a pretty bad mood. She was wearing rather dishevelled clothes, feet up on the seat in front of her. Just earlier, she had made two strangers move from around her because she wanted to be left alone. However, she glanced over my perplexed face and asked me what I was doing.
We struck up a conversation and I told her what I was studying etc. We exchanged pleasantries and some small talk. Before I knew it, she was telling me all about herself. I quietly listened as she told me about her son’s psychosis and how difficult it had been on her and her family. I painfully watched her face fall as she told me about her experiences with his doctors, costs of medications and her thoughts about her son’s wellbeing.
“That must be tough on you” I said “but I’m glad to hear it’s going well!”. Here I was, saying all these things and meaning every single word and not fabricating pats on the shoulder. I was taken aback by her openness but after getting off the tram, I realised that might as well have just walked out of a comm skills workshop with 100 times higher yield. That woman and I had shared moments of comfort, both in conversation and in the silence. All on a 17-minute tram ride in the city of Southport.
I realised quite an extraordinary thing has happened. Instead of getting preoccupied with my nervous self-talk, I was, instead, wrapped up in being present and simply lending an ear. The only thing that I was thinking about other than our conversation was making sure I didn’t say anything if asked for medical advice. There’s no point in getting de-registered before getting registered.
As I was getting off the tram, she just kept saying “you’re very good, you’re very good!” This was extremely hard for me to believe because I literally just had my ass handed to me at HBCT when I couldn’t remember all the parts of the gut supplied given by the inferior mesenteric artery (to which I think I said “rectum”).
How reassuring this experience was. Funnily enough, the nervousness goes away, the anxieties dissipate and when you’re faced with a real person with real problems the skills we learn are put into practice. You don’t even realise you’re using them; at least I didn’t. I’m sure I’ll still drop my nut when I’m taking a history in front of a big-shot consultant or osce marker, but the reality of a person’s experience and disease might just be my saviour. Everything works out. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. People deserve to be treated properly and with kindness and we are equipped to treat them so- this is paramount to any anxieties I feel.
(Plus, I heard that comm-skills makes you really good at dating and picking up people at bars)