Leaving your own worries at the door, sitting at eye level, and listening attentively are three important ways to connect meaningfully with your patients.
His name was Abraham. As I wheeled my cart full of magazines and games around the corner and into his room, I felt the palpable shift in energy that occurs when entering the space of another human being. Only half-awake, Abraham lay on the bed with his foot propped up in a sling.
“Hi,” I said. “My name is Aidan, and I’m here with Patient Comfort Rounds. I’m just checking in to see how you’re doing.”
Typically, patients ask me for water, a warm blanket, the occasional crossword puzzle, or often nothing at all. However, occasionally, an encounter goes just a little bit deeper.
“Come closer, young lady,” Abraham said.
I pulled up a chair and sat near his bed. Abraham spent the next hour sharing stories of his life and childhood—his job on a Christmas tree farm, his time serving in the army, his love for his grandkids, his journey in faith.
“The Lord wants us all to connect with one another,” he said. “Would you pray with me?”
At first, I was unsure about what to do, but I closed my eyes and held Abraham’s hand as he prayed for strength and courage.
A few weeks later, I received a note from Abraham in the volunteer comment box. It read, “Thank you for coming to visit me that day at the hospital and for our good conversation. That evening after you came to my hospital room, I slept well for the first time without thinking of the pain in my foot—I could not even feel it. Oh, it is such a beautiful day when someone says hello to you after you have been lonely for hours. Thank you —you made my day.”
This encounter with Abraham reinforced the importance of presence. Often in the clinical world, it’s easy to get caught up in treating a pathophysiological condition instead of a person. A small act of human kindness—a conversation, a hand squeeze, a genuine smile—can make a patient’s day and add meaning to our work. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. All it takes is being fully present with another person for a few minutes.
Every patient deserves our presence
After spending almost two years as a Patient Comfort Rounds volunteer, I’ve learned a few things about how to be present with patients. Here are my top tips for how to be present:
1. Sit at eye level.
This allows for a more meaningful human-to-human connection than looking down at the patient from above. Reducing the power differential by meeting patients at their level can help them feel more at ease.
2. Ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?” at the end of each encounter.
This could entail anything from answering a medical question to bringing your patient an extra pillow.
3. Leave your own worries at the door when you enter the room.
This is by far the most difficult thing to do, but like most things, with practice it becomes easier.
4. Remember that every patient is a person.
This may sound obvious, but it is also easy to forget. Learn something unique about each patient’s life story. This will help you to be more present with a fellow human being.