Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Health workers are amazing

It's been a weird week. In the midst of great busy-ness at work, we've had a sobering dose of reality.

Marie's cousin and his wife are over from the islands with their 8-week old baby. He has a hole in his heart, and complications which make it really difficult for him to breathe - and difficult to operate.

It's a crazy situation, and I really feel for the parents who have to choose between two impossible options - not operating, and possibly letting the baby die, and operating, and possibly making the baby suffer even more.

We had a family meeting this afternoon, with the cardiology team, a support worker and a Samoan interpreter.

Marie was in full advocacy mode, asking the questions that others couldn't think of how to ask. Meanwhile I was being invisible, observing. There was a lot to observe. Including:
  • Doctors have a huge job - heads of department even more so. Not only do you have to be really really good at your craft, you also have to be an expert communicator with people from different cultures. You have to display openness, break down complex information into simple ideas, and be ready to apologise when you need to.
  • Good interpreters are worth their weight in gold. Language is not like currency - it doesn't convert with a quick formula. Our interpreter today not only translated what was actually said, but more importantly helped ensure the whole family understood what was going on, and what their options were. She understood nuance, and was able to balance respectful politeness with bold questioning. I could learn a lot from this lady.
  • Getting sick in New Zealand (probably in any country) is a ridiculously inconvenient and expensive exercise. Doubly so when you're coming from overseas. Some social entrepreneur needs to apply the freeconomy thinking to the New Zealand health system.
Thanks very much to ortizmj12 for capturing how even the brightest of hospitals feel sometimes.

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