Mental health is so underrated in my opinion. It is almost impossible to explain what depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress (etc) feel like to a person fortunate enough never to experience them first hand.
One night a patient’s son approached me to help with what he thought might be suicidal ideations expressed by his father. I am certainly not the authority on therapeutic communication, but I know how to hold a conversation comfortably.
After the family had left for the night, I do what I often do with new admissions. I carve out some time, 15-30 minutes, to sit with them and ask them questions to better customize their care. I find that having a laid back non-judgmental demeanor is disarming for patients, and they open right up.
Here is my method:
- Wait for your opportunity, if they want to talk about it they will bring it up.
- Ask them if they want to talk about it.
- Shut up.
That night I heard a tale of a foster child born out of a bar room fling after the second World War. He described a youth tormented by not knowing his parents. He eventually married, had kids, successful kids. Still he was uncertain if he was a good father or not.
After all that, his life took another turn for the unexpected. He had routine imaging for abdominal discomfort that revealed a pancreatic mass. That mass was not the cause of his discomfort, but he was lucky to discover it when he did. He survived the shock of the early detection and removal of the mass. He survived the chemo. “Not everyone did,” he would mention that night of the men and women he would share space with during chemo treatments.
These weren’t the thoughts of a man wanting to end his own life. There was no motive, no means, no plan. But what? This man had what I often refer to as a Dark Traveler. I knew this, because I too have a Dark Traveler of my own.
To be continued…