Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sharing as a Family

Today we had our first Family Advisory Council meeting.  Alta Bates, our hospital in Berkeley, practices what is known in the medical world as “Family Centered Care” (sometimes also known as Patient Centered Care).  It means that rather than treating conditions and diseases, the doctors and nurses treat patients and families.  In the old days, doctors learned specialty: stomachs or livers or cancers or birthin’ babies.  They learned about ideal cases and exception cases and various treatments, etc.  And of course, they still do.  But it turns out that people get better faster when they understand what’s going on.  This does not necessarily mean more information; it means better communication.  And that’s what Patient Centered Care is all about.

The first item on our agenda was to get to know each other’s stories.  We went around the room, giving each parent as much time as he or she needed (there are five of us).  The designated speaker was usually the one holding the Kleenex box.  Many of our stories started way before the birth, sometimes even before the pregnancy.  We told it all.  We unburdened ourselves: our guilt, our regrets, our gratitude.  The frequent scares and unexpected joys.  Then and now. 

Then: the moment when we all thought, “Oh my God.  My baby is going to die.” 

Now: the profound debt of gratitude we feel toward all the other people in the room: doctors, nurses, the hospital staff that thought it was important to have a council like this to begin with.

Which reminds me, a year ago today we brought Wagner home from the hospital. 

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