In healthcare, people wear masks on a daily basis, both physically and metaphorically. Patients, family members, physicians, nurses, technologists, aides, and even the housekeeping staff.
Sometimes it is to keep the patients safe from infections or other potentially harmful exposure while in the healthcare setting. Other times it is to protect the healthcare staff from infecting a patient or from getting sick themselves.
All are good reasons for wearing a mask. At least the physical mask.
I happened to do a Google image search for doctor masks and this is what I saw:
The images happened to be a bit surprising to me. All of the people in the images have their faces hidden. The most surprising image is the 6th and 7th image, the “steampunk” genre of a physician mask.
Similarly when I performed the same search, however this time for patient masks, I found the following:
Again, all images of people wearing masks. The biggest difference I found was that most of the masks in the patient images happen to have a component of transparency.
I am sure this is by design. Perhaps it is so one can see if a patient is breathing, is reacting, or trying to communicate. Maybe it is due to materials chosen to perform a particular function, such as oxygen.
Nonetheless, patient masks have a transparent aspect to them whereas most of the masks worn by healthcare professionals are opaque.
Is this a metaphor for the relationship between patients and physicians? Is this part of the barrier in communication?
When we get sick, are in pain, have a crisis, or are in need of emergent care we are typically extremely vulnerable. We can be in a gown, naked beneath or we can be exposed emotionally. At times we are afraid, scared, and filled with anxiety. Other times we can by physically bleeding or hurt.
As patients we are completely unmasked physically. So why as patients are we not always unmasked in our communication with healthcare providers?
Perhaps part of it is that we feel healthcare professionals are busy. They are consistently running in and out of rooms, being called out of a room, paged, beeped, or even text messaged. At times physicians and nurses are trying to complete the documentation on the last patient they saw as they walk in to meet the next patient on the schedule. The verify the number but forget to ask our name.
Other times it may be the fact that physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals are focused on getting the information and forget to make a connection, an introduction, or to share a story that makes this personal versus clinical. Give me a reason why I should trust you.
In my experience I have realized that we all experience a little anxiety towards the unknown, the unexpected, and the uninformed.
One of the best ways to alleviate the anxiety is to communicate. In order for all of us to communicate effectively we need to first be transparent. Secondly, we need someone that is capable of being vulnerable to actively listen to us. Lastly, we need patience to understand patient expectations and to take the right actions in order to meet their needs.
When we remove our masks it allows us the opportunity to become vulnerable. When we are vulnerable we can share a piece of ourselves and connect with another person. We all have a story to share.
Remove the mask. Be vulnerable. Share a story.
As always, you can feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM or follow me on twitter @cancergeek
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