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Monday / July 22.
HomemilastwordCalm in the Eye of the Storm

Calm in the Eye of the Storm

I grew up in small business… brutal hours; seven till seven, seven days a week. I have no idea how my parents made it work and kept their sanity,
but they did. Life was frenetic.

One time, while cutting meat for a customer, dad was distracted and sliced the top of his finger off. He had a shop full of customers yet they were none the wiser. His quiet, measured request to my mum for assistance in finding the missing digit is now the stuff of family legend.

It was one of the qualities I admired about my dad: his capacity to remain calm under pressure. Indeed, we see it, and admire it, in so many aspects of society. At times of natural disaster or in emergency situations, we honour the rescuer / the paramedic / the bystander, who is able to ignore the maelstrom of emotion or the threat of imminent danger, calmly assess the situation, and act appropriately.

On the sports field, athletes are trained to push through the pain barrier and even injury, to ignore the crush of community expectations, so they can finish the game / kick that match winning goal / take match point.

She let out one of those shrieks of terror and pain that hit just that pitch available only to nine-year-old girls

I thought about this after my little girl jammed a staple through her finger. She let out one of those shrieks of terror and pain that hit just that pitch available only to nine-year-old girls. As frightening and as painful as it was for her, as the adult, I was able to recognise that it wasn’t life threatening, do a quick extraction, a band-aid, some calm words, a long hug and it was all over.

Sometimes the people we deal with in our daily business aren’t so different to my daughter. They are angry, upset or frightened and their reaction is driven by those emotions. Sometimes the feelings are justified; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’ve just had a bad day. A simple mistake by a staff member is the last straw, and the floodgates open.

Unless we’re able to stay calm, assess the situation correctly, and isolate and address the real problem, we’re going to get caught up in their hysteria. What if a patient is in the chair, and there’s a diagnosis you just don’t want to deliver?

Ever been in a situation where a health professional treating you expresses fear or panic in reading your chart? It is not exactly reassuring. Panic breeds panic. At the other extreme, portray a complete lack of concern and your patient may not realise the seriousness of their eye disease.

Like my daughter and her stapled finger, your patients will model their behaviour on you. By seeking the eye of the storm; by consciously nurturing the ability to remain cool in a crisis; you’ll be able to project empathy and calm reassurance. And that can only empower people as they move along the patient pathway.

It is just the professional equivalent of a Band-Aid only it lasts longer.