How to Say Goodbye

February 14, 2010 § 4 Comments

Photo by William M. Vander Weyde (American 1871–1929). Public Domain.

In my new job I have a lot more contact with patients than before. Patients not asleep, that is. Although this is an aspect of the job I really enjoy, it presents several new problems. How to say goodbye to a patient with a chronic disease, for example.

As a medical photographer you fall into the same group as the other “non-treating” personell at the hospitals. Just like with an orderly, patients often feel a visit from me is a break from the  hospital routine and a neutral person they can talk to. And a lot of patient’s need to talk, something the doctors and nurses not always have time for. My time schedule is most often not as tightly packed, so when time allows it I try listen and ask questions.

People that need to talk often start talking straight away, but what you say to the others can be more of a problem. When we photograph patients we know nothing more about them than what it says on the photo requisition card – name, number, diagnosis, body part to be photographed. I don’t know how they cope with their diagnosis and it’s not always easy to tell. That the patients most suited for photographic documentation often have very visible symptoms does not make it easier to start a conversation. Not talking about the condition is like not mentioning the elephant in the room, but if the patient is embarrased by his condition it can be totally wrong to do it.

We photograph some kids several times during their treatment. Most of these have craniosynostosis or cleft lip/palate. The first thing that springs to mind when you see these kids after surgery is how nice they look – how well the surgical treatment works. But as one of my colleagues told me, she long ago stopped saying that to the parents because it can imply that their kid didn’t look that good before surgery. And that’s not how parents think, or want others to think, about their kids.

And what do you say when a patient with a chronic disease leaves the studio? Do you say “good luck”? Do you say “get well soon”?

Lots of things to consider and lots of patients to meet. It’s challenging, and I think it brings me closer to the human aspect of what I’m doing. It removes some of my feelings of detachment.

(Photo source)

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