The Peer Visitor Shadow Visits – Bob Mandell

Per-Visitor-uniform

So the clothes don’t make the man but they can be used to create the right image for a particular moment. That’s how I view the uniform.

The Peer Visitor Program brings those who “have walked the walk” to those who are “walking the walk”. During my first day of doing shadow patient visits, I realized that is the most valuable part of the program, at least from my initial perspective.

I was being trained by participating in these visits as I accompanied an experienced person. Previously, I had read an extensive binder of materials with background information, paperwork and process requirements, suggestions, and Do’s and Don’ts. And of course, NCH had performed an extensive background check on me before giving me a uniform, hospital access and letting me wander the halls of the facility to meet with the various patients.

We met with several patients during the nearly three hours I was in the Rehabilitation Hospital. I noted that each patient significantly perked up when both of us individually disclosed that we had ourselves suffered a brain injury. You could just see the “light go on” as we each briefly told our personal brain injury story. It was quite remarkable.

It’s interesting that reading the training manual I got the distinct impression that a big part of our role was to listen and ask a few pertinent questions of the patient. However, to get the survivors attention (and sometimes the caregiver’s) it was necessary to make a considerable effort to break the ice. Certainly this was not surprising since we were perfect strangers.

We achieved our breakthroughs by briefly telling our own personal story. In one case, after we told our story of stroke rehabilitation and stroke recovery the female patient said that she didn’t usually speak with strangers very well or disclose her more personal feelings as she was with us. I was quite taken. During this first day, I witnessed several similar breakthroughs, if not quite as dramatic. In each case, the patient became quite talkative and forthcoming. In one case, a younger woman with children disclosed her husband’s pressure to recover faster. She resented his pressure.

But then I started to think about myself after stroke and during my stroke recovery phase. If someone visited me and said, “Look, I was like you in bed or in a wheelchair with considerable deficits and not feeling so great but look at me now. How would I have felt?

Encouraged! By example, I could see that this was doable, and it is – though it is not easy!

For more information about the program please go to www.braininjurypeervisitor.org and www.strokevictor.com.

Bob Mandell is the author of the recently published book, Stroke Victor, How to Go from Stroke Victim to Stroke Victor


Being a Brain Injury Peer Visitor

Per-Visitor-day-1Several months ago I was asked to speak to the Stroke Support Group which meets at one of the NCH facilities in Naples, where we live. Apparently, the speech was a success. One of several results of the speech was that I was asked to become a Brain Injury Peer Visitor in the hospital as a volunteer. The program hails from Georgia where they service 39 hospitals but NCH is the only Florida hospital participating. Hospitals in other states are becoming interested in this particular program.

The concept of the organization is to visit each brain injury patient during their in-patient rehabilitation stay. About 50% of those patients had strokes and a large majority of the others have suffered traumatic brain injuries emanating from falls or automobile accidents. Others had less prevalent but still serious brain issues. During the visit the volunteer delivers a customized packet of materials with information about the malady, lists of resources and suggestions to assist the survivor, the caregiver and their family and friends.

All of the volunteers in the program have themselves suffered a brain injury of one kind or another as I have. I have often said that there is reality and theoretical. Reality is me, for example – I have had a stroke and have gone through stroke treatment, stroke rehabilitation and in my case have been fortunate to have achieved a high level of stroke recovery. No matter how hard they try, be they physician, therapist, family or friend – no one knows what it is like to have a brain injury if they actually haven’t personally experienced it. I do not say that to be negative or out of malice in any way. We have “walked the walk” and that’s the point! Similarly, for me, the big “C” is theoretical because I fortunately have not had cancer.

The Peer Visitor Program brings those who “have walked the walk” to those who are “walking the walk”. And in our visits we try to bring some comfort, an ear to listen, perhaps a bit of questioning to open an intellectual door, and some personal experience that that can be valuable and comforting. Our objective as we walk out of the patient’s room is to leave the survivor, and perhaps the caregiver and family more uplifted and perhaps a bit more prepared to do the work of recovery than when we entered.

For more information about the program please go to www.braininjurypeervisitor.org and www.strokevictor.com.