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Compassion - How We Touch People's Lives

July 02, 2013

This month I had the opportunity to perform Patient Experience Rounds with Bev Siano, Director of Baystate Medical Center’s Patient Care Services, where we met a very ill patient who had a lot to teach us about medical care.

Mary was admitted from our Emergency Department to a medical unit. She was ill with chronic multi‐organ failure and what appeared to be a new soft tissue infection. On the floor she met Michael DeMatteo, MD who began caring for her. He explained to Mary and her family the severity of her illness, his concern for serious complications, and even mortality. Soon thereafter, Mary began to deteriorate and was sent to the medical intensive care unit for more aggressive care. She recovered and was transferred back to the Wesson 4 medical unit, with Dr. DeMatteo re‐assigned to her care. The nursing team and patient care technicians had their hands full with a very sick patient who was dependent on them for the most basic of life's functions: oxygenation, eating, and elimination. On rounds, the patient mentioned how cared for she felt in our hospital; how the team showed compassion to her at every step in her recovery even though she was so disabled. Mary recalled Dr. DeMatteo’s excellent communication including his concerns for her and his explanation of the steps in her care and recovery. She mentioned the great nursing care of Kayla Hayles who made her feel comfortable and valued by listening to her. Mary gave special recognition to Patient Care Technician, Shyravia Hicks, sharing that Hicks “took care of me as if she were my family." Mary welled up with tears as she shared that it was the compassionate care that kept her going.

Every day we are privileged to enter the lives of other human beings in need. Sometimes in the daily grind of being a clinician we forget the impact we have on individuals. We take for granted our knowledge and our education; the daily task of interacting with patients may become rote.

Mary gave me pause that day on rounds. She became a beacon to me of why we do what we do. Maya Angelou once said that "illness is the great equalizer of humans." In illness, we are all equally vulnerable. By showing compassion to Mary, our staff eased a little bit of her pain and helped her to recover. What may seem to be the smallest conversations or the most insignificant gestures to us sometimes are the most powerful acts to those in need.

We all strive to make sure our patients have a positive experience at Baystate Health. We measure that experience in many ways: responsiveness, cleanliness, communication. But in the end, it is compassion that truly drives patient experience; compassion for those "equalized" by illness.

Check out this very moving video called “Empathy” produced by the Cleveland Clinic that really challenges us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  I am more motivated than ever to do this great work and to improve the patient experience through compassion. I know you will join me.

I welcome your comments and suggestions at We’ve joined the conversation on Twitter; find this newsletter and other great content @Baystate Health.