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