By John Walsh and Yvonne Newbold
“You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you“ – Hildegard of Bingen
As humans we are an amalgam of both logic and emotion, together with our own rich tapestry of experience which informs our intuition, our imagination and our capacity to dream. To suppress one whole and huge part of who we are reduces our ability to function effectively. Our intuition is housed deeply within us, in the place where we must dig deep to harness all manner of other resources that give us strength, that help us to make sense of the world, and to keep our mental and emotional well-being intact and working for us rather than against us. It’s where our resilience lives too, our inner strength and our ability to feel vulnerable.
When we cut ourselves off from all of these important personal resources, we distance ourselves from others, we become wary, we become isolated, and we don’t connect with the people or environment around us in quite the same way.
Medical science is based in logic, where mostly diagnostic criteria are visible, tangible and measurable. The NHS requires its staff to adhere closely to policy, procedures and protocols. The intuitive skills are at the other end of the spectrum, they are felt rather than observed, and they often fly in the face of logic. How easy is it for clinicians within the NHS to harness their own inner resources such as intuition and imagination, when their professional training and the boundaries of their working environments strongly emphasise the importance of fact above feelings? In some places feelings seem to be feared. One of the authors recalls how a nurse once shared with them that the person in charge of the ward they worked on always told staff to leave their feelings at the door. When we talked about this we could see how what was being asked was for a nurse to be a person free from feeling and emotional connection – a robot.
Intuition is a sixth sense. Families have this sixth sense often in abundance. They know what the experts sometimes cannot see. Intuition is a second sight that offers wisdom. Oh how we need to have services and ears that will listen to this sense and sight.
Intuition is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it becomes and the better we get at it, and the more developed our inner resources become and our resilience too. We learn to listen to that deeply buried intuitive whisper of a voice, the one that will guide us safely back to shore each time we follow its advice. We can call it intuition, or our soul, or an inner voice, or our sixth sense, or a hunch, or we can even call it wisdom, but when we heed it’s warnings or advice it’s seldom wrong.
Intuition often develops organically when we stop and watch and listen. A mother who watches her baby sleep may pick up on the imperceptible early change in his breathing pattern that may indicate the onset of illness hours before a clinical test would detect any cause for concern. To the mother it’s as clear as day that there is a problem looming, and she may be astounded when doctors tell her everything is fine. She knows it’s not, but she won’t be able to explain how she knows, she just does.
A concerned son may notice his mother’s sharp mind declining months before a dementia assessment can confirm it. He knows because he’s had a lifetime of lighthearted banter with her, and suddenly she is pausing for a split second occasionally before coming up with a witty response to his teasing. He knows what is happening, and when the GP tries to reassure him that all is well, he can’t understand why their trusted family doctor can’t see what he can see with pinpoint clarity.
Both the young mother and the middle aged son lose a little bit of faith in the doctors, at exactly the same time that the doctors wonder if both concerned family members aren’t becoming a little bit over-protective and anxious. Them and us. Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong, and a little bit more listening from everybody might help the baby boy and the elderly mother get treatment earlier, with the clinicians and the family members pooling their own expertise of each uniquely personal situation.
One of the authors is the mother who wasn’t believed. It happened several times when her son Toby was very small. Her concerns were dismissed and it felt like the most frightening thing that can happen. She took her dear baby to A & E because she could hear how distressed his breathing was becoming, She could see the colour draining out of his face, She could recognise that he was becoming listless and less responsive. She wanted medical help for him and several times it was refused. How do we make them listen when they think they know best? Each time, within 12 hours he had deteriorated to such an extent that returning to A & E he needed a crash team and an admittance to ITU. If someone had listened, admitted him under observation, or even started i/v antibiotics on a “just in case” basis, who knows, we may have avoided admissions that lasted several stressful weeks or months. This is all about the human cost – the intense distress it caused Toby and the detrimental effect it had on the well-being of a loving family. Some might see it as a financial issue – how much did it cost to keep Toby in a state-of-the art ITU bed? All because the concerns of a good mother were dismissed as over-protectiveness and nobody listened.
Listening isn’t measurable, and staff in services everywhere are sadly not usually recruited on their ability to listen. As a result we easily end up with services in some places that don’t know how to listen. The future of all services – most especially those services we need and love so much – must involve a fight to make authentic listening a priority. Among the countless key performance indicators that are used to measure clinical effectiveness, listening doesn’t get a mention. It seems as if those all-important two-way conversations between doctors and families are not valued, but without listening, not just for symptoms but also for a patient’s own contextual perspective regarding his illness, how can appropriate treatment begin?
This blog is all about intuition. Sometimes we hear that quiet little voice and it unsettles us. Other times we ignore it, or we allow things that other people say to counter what it’s telling us to do, or to think, or to say. It’s easy to dismiss it, to convince ourselves that it was just a shadowy moment of a thought that entered our head and meant nothing at all. It was just a random insignificant idea that wasn’t anything special.
Other times the intuition is so loud and clear and persistently repetitive that we can’t ignore it, much as perhaps we might want to. Occasionally the voice is telling us to do something so outside of our comfort zone that it’s quite a frightening prospect, and acknowledging it at all can take a lot of courage. Often it’s not a voice at all, but a feeling, or a sense, or an impulse or almost nothing at all, and sometimes it’s only a half-developed concept or a tiny part of a jigsaw of events that you have no way of working out what they are or what they mean.
We’d like to see an NHS that puts people right back at the centre of everything it does. Instead we have bureaucracy dominating absolutely everything, with healthcare professionals stressed out, not by the patients, but by the relentless spreadsheets, the form filling and the box ticking, and keeping abreast with all the ever-changing directives concerning dozens of policies, procedures, pathways and protocols. It is so easy for people to become lost in and slaves to a system which is actually out of control in the sense that no one is able to control it.
It only takes one person to change things, yet how many people work in the NHS? Change can start slowly, by just one person shifting the way they do things. A tiny ripple, and it doesn’t feel as if it will make much difference, but it will. One person can change the whole experience of the NHS for a whole family for the better. One person can lighten the load of a colleague by an offer of help, which may have a positive effect on the way that colleague interacts with their next patient.
If we want change, we have to be that change. If we wait until Parliament passes a law, or a new policy gets written and a new directive gets issued, it will take too long and it might not even be the change that’s needed. The good news is that we can start that change now and right where we are. Our tools are listening, kindness and working together. Will it solve everything? No. Will we do the amazing in some places and some circumstances ? The authors definitely think so. To use these good tools we need to use our intuitive faculty and support the emergence of intuitive cultures. There is an wonderful quote attributed to either Albert Einstein or the artist Bob Samples. It says, ‘ The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift,’ These words tell us a deep truth. That there are two ways of seeing – rational and intuitive. That we need both to correlate and work in tandem. That we in the West have lost the one and elevated the other to a position of totality. It is when the NHS and other services finds its intuition that it will find its soul – its deepest self. It is in this appearance of the deep centre and self that human beings and organisations are transformed – really transformed. Instead of monochrome systems we will create and paint with all the colours of the rainbow.
It is our hope and work to support the discovery and voice of that intuitive sense in our services and organisations. Intuition is a beautiful and life giving – and life saving – gift. To neglect it is criminal. And yet intuition does not stand or sing alone. She has a beautiful sister. Our next joint blog will speak of her and her innovative work. In the meantime we would ask that all who read this to please make those spaces today where listening to families, loved ones and carers can be a reality. Listening is where intuition is born and where wisdom can start to be heard and caught. If Intuition becomes practice and passion across our services and systems we may find that humanity and people start to focus more and more in all aspects. If it doesn’t the future prognosis isn’t good. While we cannot make this happen everywhere we can make it happen where we are. These two authors believe that that is our duty and our joy.
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Yvonne Newbold – named by HSJ as a Top 50 Inspirational Women in Healthcare 2014
Winner of Learning Disability Today Learning Disability Champion 2015
Author of “The Special Parent’s Handbook” #1 Amazon Best Seller
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