Thursday, December 16, 2010
This is a personal observation on the two separate levels of care within one institution of medicine. On Tuesday I entered Vancouver General Hospital for surgery on my spine, from the moment I began at the admitting desk friendly and supportive staff guided me to my pre-op care, where nurses prepared me, and doctors met with me and soon I was in the OR. All the time no one asked me with repeated questions or preconceived ideas of why I was there, or second guessing me. To them I was a man in pain with a medical condition that needed to be treated and they did so in a respectful manner. After I recovered I was taken to a modern hospital room which was clean, with TVs and a amazing nurse who showed real concern with my bladder and post op urination problems. She was always making sure I was comfortable and not in too much pain. I was treated by wonderful doctors who visited with me often and involved me in my own care with openness and candidness. I was treated with respect and dignity.
In the early Fall I was severely depressed and made my way to Vancouver General Hospital emerg to seek care for pain, not physical mind you but pain all the same. I was shuffled off on a gurney down a side hallway where I was placed in different patient clothing than the folks there for physical treatment. I was questioned over and over again, telling my life story, my fears, and my experience with attempted suicide with a discounted no so caring manner. Treated to some degree like I was a hinderence to their emergency room duties. I was seen by two doctors who talked at me not to me, and I was shuffled off the the Pysch Unit.
In the Psych unit a block away from the modern, clean room I would eventually have my surgery, I was greeted by a old run down building, not so clean, old 70s beds, and dim lighting. The nurses stayed behind the counter treating most interactions with patients like it was a confrontation, or like we were pests. rarely reaching out to those of us in pain, again not physical but pain all the same.
In most health care institutions, there is institutional stigma regarding mental illness. Rarely are MH patients treated with warmth, or mutual respect, but usually treated like opposing forces. Very few more facilities are newer, up to date or maintained as well as the physical health side of the coin. Mental Health care even though it serves a large and diverse population is usually the recipient of hand me down facilities and equipment. And yes some hospital staff offer different levels of care for mental health and physical health patients.
This two sides of the same coin became very clear to me as I was in the same hospital in recent stays one for my physical health and the other for my mental health. While I was in my room recovering from my surgery I looked out my window and could see the building that I was once a patient in a patient in pain. One side of this building had boarded up windows like some old tenement and I knew that a person deserving the same dignity and respect that I was receiving was getting the second tier of care. Stigma is not always verbal, sometimes it is brick and morter, policy professional attitude, and this needs to change.
In the coming years thanks to a single generous donor is funding a new purpose built mental health centre will be built at VGH. Our community is lucky to have received such a wonderful gift. But still attitudes cannot be funded and must change from within, and with education, compassion and care.