Movin' On with Nellie: Compassion should be heart of all health care


I met Dr. Kelsey Walker at Rio Grande Hospital Clinic, Del Norte; she has experience with complicated humans, like me. Even the greeters, i.e. receptionists and schedulers, are polite and personable there. The smile is the first impression I get coming through the doors; still when I have to wait for a moment while a phone call is completed, the smile comes shining through. The nurse who calls me to come back is also friendly and her body language matches her words of caring, “How are you today?”

But there are more times than not when clients, patients, or customers are greeted by stale and overused scripts when they approach health care businesses or hospitals. Last week, I experienced just that reception when one of my conditions overtook me and I was late getting to an appointment. The words the receptionist spoke might have been played better by an actor in a play than the human staring at me. Despite my requesting she check with the doctor to see if an exception just this time could be made, she refused.

I know that being seen despite being late is possible because I helped my cousin with just the same doctor for just the same procedure not a month ago. His schedule was just as jammed as it was last week when I requested the same consideration. My cousin had gotten lost and despite directions was unable to find the clinic in Monte Vista on her own. I had her follow me as I drove to the clinic where she finally arrived 30 minutes late. She was seen, but in my situation, the receptionist refused to step to the back and ask if they might work me in after all. A post-op appointment had already been scheduled in Colorado Springs; and it would seem to me that I could have been accommodated.

Because I was not treated like a human needing help and coming in for diabetic foot care with complications too many to detail here, I will not be going back to that clinic. The woman who faced me was uncaring, rigid and most of all, she devalued me as a human. Her eyes glared at me and did not reflect compassion. She was actually saying to me, “How dare you come in late, no matter what your situation is. How dare you present yourself as a human with medical needs and complications. How dare you present without fitting into a mold!”

As patients, we are expected to wait for the physician or nurse even when they are late for appointments. I expect they could be late from an extra long lunch, or from surgery that took longer than expected, or because there was an accident on the pass. I’ve waited an hour before to be seen; I was thankful to be seen.

There is more than one medical establishment that exudes this type of unfeeling, uncaring and in-human contact here in the Valley. I think, it’s time to change that.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live and work in an area with medical facilities that valued us—not only clients but employees too? It’s in the valuing of others that we grow our reputations and businesses—medical and otherwise. It’s not rigidity that brings them back and back and back. It’s the compassion, the conversation, the respect and the seeing others as valid human beings.

Even Data on Star Trek: Next Generation values what it means to be human and tries in almost every episode to become more human, more compassionate and less data driven. Other examples in our culture include our own Judeo-Christian heritage. Compassion rings true and primary in the Old and New Testaments. Why can’t we experience compassion in these supposedly compassionate fields? Why are we so fixated on rigid rules to the exclusion of kindness?

--Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her with ideas for her next column at [email protected]

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