The importance of support: the working relationships with my medical team

DSC_0377 (1)

I’m sure almost everyone has heard the expression “there’s no I in team”. The important lessons there are: you have to work with others, sometimes you need to depend on others and learn about the importance of working together as a unit on one mission, with one central goal. As an individual with special needs, and a neurological condition, I have some experience working with a team. I work with a neurological team, as well as a neurosurgical team.

Recently, some readers expressed interest in my working relationships with my medical team. Like any relationship, it isn’t easy. It takes a lot of communication, trust, and safety to allow myself to feel vulnerable. In preparation for this post, I did some research by The National Center for Biotechnology Information. In an article titled Trust, Health Care Relationships, and Chronic Illness the author states “Trust in health care relationships is a key ingredient of effective, high-quality care. Although the indirect influence of trust on health outcomes has long been recognized, recent research has shown that trust has a direct effect on outcomes of care. Trust is important.” (Robinson, 2016)

Find that article here:

This relationship is a complex series of lines that form a web of safety and health. The doctors, nurses, and surgeons have the medical expertise that I lack. I, however, am the best expert on myself. I am the author of my textbook. Together, there has to be a give and take. I have to listen to them and them from me.

Developing trust in your team is a process.

I switched medical teams roughly seven years ago when I moved back to Vermont. I had a series of surgical and recovery complications which led to a very traumatic night. Unfortunately, after that incident, I lost confidence in the team that had treated me for twenty years. I have immense respect for that team and I’m also grateful for everything they had done for me over the years. However, that trust could never be recover.

As I transferred to the other team here in Vermont, I had to recognize the trauma and the feelings that came with that. I had to confront that head-on so that it didn’t hold me back. I work primarily with four members of the team: my two neurosurgeons, their direct surgical nurse, as well as the ward nurse. These are the people that I depend on. They are the people I ask for directly (or sometimes call when need be). Theirs are the hands that I put my health and life in. In order for these relationships to sustain the immense amounts of stress, I rely on three things: the ability to listen, the willingness to forgive, and the strength to communicate.

  1. Listen. Far too often people listen to respond, instead of to hear. I admit I have been guilty of this. However I had to learn when dealing with my medical team that there are times and places for assertiveness, but there are also times to listen. Sometimes people get bogged down by stress. Other times by fear. My medical team(s) have taught me that sometimes I need to hear them out before responding or reacting, and that has saved my life.
  2. Willingness to forgive. This is perhaps the most difficult for me, medically as well as personally. Medicine has been referred to as the “imperfect science”. Doctors collect data, (symptoms) they test theories, (treatment) and view the outcome (reaction to treatment). Sometimes an intervention works, other times, it does not. A patient has to be willing to forgive, know that no harm was intended, and extend grace to the team.
  3. Communicate. This should go without saying. Just as you would communicate with your partner, your children, or your friends, you also must be strong enough to communicate with a medical team. If you have any questions, ask! If you have reservations, tell them. If you’re afraid, trust them enough to confide in them.

No one individual has the same experiences with their medical team. I have been lucky with mine and I feel so much gratitude for everything they have been able to do. The relationship with your medical team is certainly not the easiest, but it doesn’t have to be a losing battle. Their goals are the same as yours- health and safety. Work with them, trust in them, and keep moving forward!