I spent last week in the hospital with four ruptured disks, and I’ve got a shiny new red walker to show for it. There is no missing I look pretty hot slowly strolling around the cul-de-sac with that little baby out in front.
I met some truly amazing medical personnel during my hospital stay. They were skilled, compassionate, and reassuring. These doctors, nurses, and physical therapists helped put Humpty Dumpty back together again. My spine and I are grateful.
And, I met some other hospital staff that…well, should possibly consider a different profession. Arrogant, sharp-tongued, condescending and often indifferent. In my narcotic induced haze, I had trouble telling if one particular nurse was being that awful or if I was just misunderstanding through the chemical fog. When my protective friends made sure she wasn’t allowed back in my room, I got my answer.
The first few days I was basically incapacitated. I couldn’t roll or reach for a glass of water. It hurt when someone put on my socks and when I blinked. My need for assistance from a nurse who seemed very unwilling to give it, was a vulnerable state, indeed.
As I became more lucid, I watched dozens of staff members pop in and out of my room poking and prodding, testing and treating. I couldn’t help but put on my counselor hat and wonder about the hearts of those who were unable to contain their distain and frustration.
What is her story? Why does she feel safer treating me like produce than seeing me as a person? Why does she never look me in the eye? Why is he hell-bent on my feeling ‘less than’? Does he really not see how uncomfortable I am when he does that? Was she always this cold, or is she burnt out? How does someone seemingly so harsh work in the helping profession? What happened to him that he believes it’s ok to treat others with such contempt?
The more I pondered, I became aware how this also applies to counseling…even more so to counseling. Any good doctor can set your arm if you break it. It doesn’t really matter if they are a decent person or not. The arm will heal, even if the doctor is an emotional or relational goober as long as the arm is set properly.
However, in the counseling room, who I am, what I model, how I interact, and my character is essential to the therapeutic process and relationship. It’s difficult for the client to tell their deepest truth if the atmosphere I create is one that lacks transparency and authenticity. If my insides and outsides don’t match clients know. They may not know what to call it, but they know what it feels like.
Those few staff members at the hospital that were so insensitive were really a gift in the end. I think those medical professionals have forgotten what it means to have a need. I don’t ever want to forget what it is like to be the client. Remembering my counseling experience is essential to what I provide my own clients.
I never want to forget what it is like to be a client sitting in the lobby for the first time waiting for a counselor I’ve never met to call my name, and not really knowing what ‘counseling’ meant.
I never want to forget the panic of managing the chaos in my head and heart while trying to appear like a normal person as I introduced myself.
I never want to forget the confusion in my spirit when being asked questions about things I was told never to talk about.
I never want to forget the vulnerability of speaking aloud words I swore I would die before I uttered.
I never want to forget the pain in acknowledging my deepest losses and feeling the impact of them in front of another person.
I never want to forget the exposure of expressing an emotion I thought would kill me if I ever opened the door to it.
I never want to forget my counselor responding exactly the opposite of what I was expecting, and trusting his heart (and mine) more because of it.
I never want to forget telling my darkest secrets and the counselor looking at me with compassion rather than running from the room.
I never want to forget the terror of no longer being able to keep the panic at bay.
I never want to forget the fear and anger that is so great it felt like my insides were melting.
I never want to forget automatically nodding my head in agreement when I was so faint with fright I couldn’t even make out the words my counselor was saying.
I never want to forget the agony and beauty of being courageous when I had none left.
I never want to forget the sense of knowing I was being held in a safe embrace for the first time in my life.
I never want to forget how different a deep breath feels after shame is lifted by telling the truth.
I never want to forget the feeling of someone pursuing all of me.
I never want to forget what it feels like to express a need and not be shamed for it.
I never want to forget pulling over to throw up on my way to group therapy…for six months.
I never want to forget some of my closest friends coming out of that same group of which I was so fearful.
I never want to forget the weight that was lifted as dread was extricated from my soul.
I never want to forget the joy in discovery that the me I was finding I actually liked.
I never want to forget the moment I realized I could love a man… when I was sure those places in my heart were long since dead.
I never want to forget the freedom of embracing vulnerability as gift rather than fearing it.
I never, ever want to forget I was once in the position of client who is now sitting across from me.
My client’s time in my office is about them not me, but remembering my journey helps me to be relatable, patient, and compassionate. That’s what some of the hospital staff had forgotten…relatability, patience, and compassion.
Let me say again, the large majority of those who cared for me were kind, compassionate and highly skilled. My night nurse, John, was so gentle, attentive, and witty. After witnessing my astounding startle reflex a time or two, he knew not to come into my room until he stood at the door and was sure I was awake. He put a note on the door at night that read, “do not enter until she acknowledges you OUT LOUD”. He and many others like him provided dignity in my very undignified state.
My deepest desire is to do the same for those who sit in my office. I am reminded now, more than ever, how my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect my clients. May I ways remember what it is like to be treated less than human when very human needs are present.